It all started with a rash.
It was a week before we were supposed to leave for the Sea to Sea Expedition Race, a 72 hour adventure race across the state of Florida, from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast. My husband Geoff had just taken his t-shirt off only to reveal a gnarly looking rash across the left side of his torso.
"Dude, what IS that?" I exclaimed in equal parts disgust and curiosity.
"I'm not sure...but it itches like crazy."
As a couple of self proclaimed endurance dirtbags who live in the Southeast of the United States, it is not uncommon for the two of us to be covered in some sort of skin ailment the majority of the calendar year. Poison ivy, mosquito bites, sea lice (those are extra fun), or just general scratches from the plethora of sharp plants in this area that seem to have a vendetta against human flesh.
But, it was mid February, and most of the angry flora and fauna haven't emerged from their winter slumber yet. Further, a combination of tapering for a race plus "life" in general meant that it had been a few weeks since either one of us had been exposed to any sort of rash-causing nature. So this huge patch of angry skin on Geoff's back initially seemed puzzling.
But it only took me a few seconds to remember that just the night before Geoff had been complaining about strange, sharp pains around his ribcage. And that's when it clicked...
"Uhhh...I think you have the shingles".
A few painful and sleepless nights for Geoffrey later, a doctors appointment confirmed what we already knew - he had the shingles for the first time in his life.
Anyone who has had shingles before can confirm - they are incredibly painful. I myself managed to activate this dormant virus a few years ago during the stress of a move.
Further, any sane, reasonable person would realize that racing for 72 sleepless hours by foot, bike, and canoe while in the middle of a shingles outbreak is a horrible, no good, very bad decision.
But, most sane, reasonable people don't sign up for these types of events to begin with, never mind spend the amount of training time and money we sank into this event over the last year.
So, with a reluctant "I know you're probably going to do it anyway, so I'm not going to tell you NOT to go..." semi-approval from the doctor, we packed our bags and gear bins, and headed to St. Augustine, Florida for the 24th annual Sea to Sea Adventure Race.
Those of you familiar with the chaos of team HSEC know that Sea to Sea was set to be our first multi-day adventure race. Geoff had participated in a few 24 hour races over a decade ago, but my longest AR to date has only been 12 hours.
However, we come from an ultrarunning background, so spending multiple days awake doing stupid stuff is not foreign to us. Therefore, we had hoped to be at least semi-competitive in our category at Sea to Sea.
But, the universe had entirely different plans for us, and therefore we were forced to reevaluate our race strategy for what we'd now refer to as #SeaToShingles. Our goal would now be to simply get from the start line to the finish line while keeping Geoff's immune system as happy as possible, and not stress about anything else.
Which was great, because we managed to miss the memo about the pre-race dinner.
We realized this when we showed up at 5:50 for the 6:00 pm pre-race meeting, and saw not only every table under the tent full of people already, but the volunteers behind the food table.
Normally, this would have sent competitive Heather into a bit of a tizzy. But instead I got to laugh about the fact that because we showed up so late, there was no silverware left, so the kind volunteer gave Geoff and I a set of tongs to eat our dinner with.
Let the adventure begin.
Thursday: Race Morning
By the grace of the hotel bed gods, I actually slept the night before the race. When my alarm went off at 4:30 am on Thursday morning, I had zero thoughts of "ugh let's just skip this and stay in bed", and instead hopped up and got my day started.
We packed our bags, dropped off our extra stuff in our rental van, and headed over to grab our maps and board one of the buses that would take us 130+ miles to the Gulf Coast of Florida.
A volunteer asks us who is the team Captain. Geoff raises hand and says "I am...unless it involves reading or seeing things." He's pretty blind without his glasses, so instead the volunteer hands me a rolled up stack of 29 maps, with 72 pre-plotted CP's.
We climb aboard a bus, and Geoff takes us to the second to last row where we claim our seats. In addition to being semi-blind, his bladder is also the size of a pea, so he figured the closer we could sit to the bus bathroom, the better. I agreed...
...until about 20 minutes later when I realized I was getting motion sickness from trying to read maps in the bumpy back of a bus, next to the bathroom, near the same time everyone's morning caffeine was kicking in.
That's the polite way of saying everyone had to poop, and it certainly smelled as such.
But it's fine, we're not going to panic. Because our new race strategy included as much downtime as we needed, so there was less pressure to feel like we had to know our exact route before the race started. We'd figure it out as we went.
The three hour bus ride basically consisted of me alternating between looking at the map for 5 minutes at a time, and closing my eyes for 5 minutes at a time so I didn't puke. Toss in about 50+ "LOOK, A HORSE!" comments, because that's just who I am, and as it turns out, there's a ton of horses in Florida.
Eventually, the bus dropped us off at Bird Creek Beach in Yankeetown, Florida.
We gather our paddle bag from one of the uhaul trucks, grab our GPS spot tracker (the kind that keeps track of us, not the kind that lets us know where we are), pick out a boat, and wait. I am taking this "casual approach" seriously, and therefore, lounge in the front of our canoe with my feet up, while everyone around me scrambles to get everything just right.
Eventually, race director Jeff Leininger calls us over for some last minute words, including some "you heard it hear first, folks" type of news about upcoming races he will be putting on.
As much as a return of Primal Quest to Moab appeals to me, let me get through the relatively tame flats of Florida first.
One person per team lines up with their hands on the fence. When RD Jeff says go we all scramble to fill half of our team's bottles with sand from the West coast. The idea is to carry the bottle all the way to the East coast, and fill it the rest of the way when we get there.
Assuming we don't lose it first...
Leg 1: Paddle CP 1-9
Distance: 30 miles (48km)
Total Time: 8:56:19
9/9 CP's obtained
Typically there's some sort of prologue to separate the race pack and prevent bottlenecks at the start, but I suppose the Gulf of Mexico is big enough for all 300 (ish?) of us.
CP 1 - Clue: NE vegetation point of island
The race is a "limited rogaine" format, which means you can collect control points (often called "check points" or "CP's" for short) in any order you want - as long as you have the correct punch card in hand for that section.
Nevertheless, every single team heads for CP 1, which is just under a kilometer North on an island.
For my non adventure racing pals reading this post, maps given out during an AR almost always utilize the metric system, so I will almost always refer to kilometers in this post. You get used to it after awhile, and trying to figure out how long it will take you to go 5 km when you normally paddle around 4 miles an hour is a fun and confusing way to pass the time.
Anyway, it's chaos, with boats taking all sorts of different approaches. And while I learned long ago that you always follow the map, not other racers, it's pretty hard to miss CP 1 - which was on a slippery oyster shell and sea-slime (technical term) covered island.
It's only been about 15 minutes, and we've already punched CP1. The race is officially NOT a bust. Pretty sure we high-fived over this accomplishment.
CP 2 - Clue: SE section of island
We turn the boat around and head South towards CP 2, which is about 3 km away. But, the tide is incredibly low, and almost everyone is bottoming out on the sand and oyster beds.
Fortunately, my super handy (and handsy, but that's another story) husband thought to pack a tow rope and a carabiner in our paddle bag. This allowed us to tow our boat in a manner my chiropractor would be proud of pretty easily for about a half a kilometer, before we could get back in the canoe and paddle once again.
We make it to the next island about 50 minutes later, and have our first bout of bumbling around in circles.
And what's adventure racing without bumbling around in circles anyway?
One of the entertaining things about this sport is you never know how straight forward the CP's will be, nor how obvious (or hidden) the O-flags. While the flag for CP1 was pretty obvious, the flag for CP2 was tucked in a clearing at least 100 yards deep into gnarly "sea-brush" (another technical term I've made up just now).
CP3 - Clue: West side of small barrier island
Back in the boat, we head due West...right into the wind. The water is getting a little choppy, but nothing like the great Intracoastal Waterway paddle of the 2022 Swamp Fox 12 hour race.
I'm bird-nerding like NO ONES business at this point. We had started the race with a pair of bald eagles watching us from a nearby island. At this point, I've seen massive pelicans, American oystercatchers, and just when I think I cannot National Geographic anymore, a freaking POD OF DOLPHINS pops up right in front of us.
I'm still grinning ear to ear when we land on the short of a barrier island directly in front of the CP. Things are going well.
CP 4 - Clue: North side of island
We turn once again and begin paddling NorthWest. There are two possible approaches to CP 4, and we've decided the the eastern path makes the most sense. I shoot a bearing towards our entry point in the channel, and we hit it with no problem
Once we start heading inland, I notice a car on one of the islands. My gut instinct is that this makes zero sense, if we had truly taken the eastern channel, how the heck would a car get there in the first place? There didn't appear to be any sort of roads between the two.
So, my dear readers, I convinced myself that this was just "one of those situations" where the race director gives us a map with limited information, and clearly, not all roads were listed. It made perfect sense.
So we paddle along happy as can be for a little over 2 km, when all of a sudden we come around a corner to see a bunch of teams parked on the left short of the channel.
"Maybe they're all stopping to pee." I said out loud, confidently.
Not so confidently, I look over my shoulder as we pass by and see the damn O-flag.
CP 5 - Clue: East portion of bridge
The good news is that we now know exactly where we are. I distract my husband from lecturing me about my nav error by using terms like "parallel error" to impress upon him the fact that I've read at least SOME of Squiggly Lines.
The even better news is that the next checkpoint is about 8km under the ONLY bridge on this particular map. We can't miss it.
And we don't.
The bad news is that during this section, in the literal FIFTEEN SECONDS I tuck my head into my bag to dig out some snacks, a MANATEE pokes his head out of the water, takes a breath, flips his tail, and swims away.
I hear the commotion from not only the manatee, but my husband who yells "MANATEE!" and two guys in another canoe who yell "WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT?!"
I quickly shove my GoPro in the water hoping to catch a glimpse of the sea-potato, but to no avail.
I'm still insanely jealous that I missed the manatee sighting.
CP 6 - Clue: Shoreline slight indentation
We hit the first waypoint of the day: a portage around a damn. It's not a far walk from takeout to put-in, but it's got to be at least 80+ degrees and we have to carry the boat uphill. It's the first time all day that I've felt like this was "work".
Which is not a complaint in any way, but was rather a reminder to eat more and put on more sunscreen.
We eventually put the canoes back into the most gorgeous canal. There has to be alligators in here - it's too pretty to not have something lurking beneath all of the greenery, but I don't see a single one.
We're paddling down this canal (lock?) for another 2 km, which involved not only a second portage, but a hilarious climb over a metal pipe while still in the boat.
Kudos to the solo next to us who limbo'ed under.
Eventually the canal opens up to a much larger river, and we easily find CP6 in an area that felt like it should have a moose.
You can take the girl out of Vermont, but you'll never take the constant scouring of the horizon for a moose out of the girl.
CP 7 - CP 9
We've now entered the phase of the paddle where the details get fuzzy. By the time we hit CP 7, we've been in the boat for over 6 hours, and by the time we hit the boat take out, we've been on the water for a total of 8:56:19.
Highlights from this section include:
- Helping rescue another team who got their canoe stuck on a log just underwater.
- Realizing that despite being a semi-strong paddler, I struggle to move a canoe carrying both of us against the current (which was pretty much the entire race) when Geoff stops paddling.
- Seeing Sandhill Cranes for the first time in my life (the bird-nerd stoke was high).
- Paddling by two big owls sitting on a branch.
- A beautiful sunset.
As the sun began to set, both Geoff and I realized that despite multiple applications of sunscreen, we were both practically GLOWING with sunburn. It suddenly made sense why everyone else was wearing long sleeves, despite the heat.
Rookie mistake (how many more years can I get away with saying this?)
But, when we finally arrived to the boat take out, we had successfully cleared the first section, collecting all 9 CP's.
Our luck, however, was about to change.
Leg 2: Bike CP 10-18B
Distance: 30 ish miles (48km)
Total Time: 13:51:20
0/16 CP's obtained
We change into our bike gear and headed out for leg 2. We immediately spend way too much time searching for CP 10, to no avail. We weren't the only ones - loads of teams were bumbling around in the woods on the side of a bike path trying to find the flag.
We apparently got close enough that it registered on the tracker , but in reality, we never found the flag.
And then everything kind of went to shit from there.
We ride about 6km on a busy paved road in the fog and dark, and I'm grinding away at my pedals and gripping my handlebars for dear life. I loathe road riding, but understand it's necessary at times in this sport.
We eventually hit Pruitt trailhead and then spend the next few hours absolutely confused.
We're at the start of the Santos trails - I think - but cannot get our map to line up with the maps on the trailhead. Again, I'm not the only one confused, and we spend a lot of time wandering in circles with a couple of other teams trying to figure out what's going on.
Further, the sections of the Florida trail which make the MOST sense to ride - and that most other teams are taking - are clearly marked with a "NO BIKES" sign.
Geoff and I are not sure what to do, and we're tired, and so we say "fuck it", and ride to TA.
This will become a #SeaToShingles trend.
TA #1 / Nap #1
Just under five hours from the time we started our ride, we arrive to TA #1 having obtained absolutely ZERO check points. When we check in with the volunteer, she cheerily asks "how many did you get?" I hand her our punch card while replying, equally as cheery, "ZERO!"
She looked a little stunned at the fact that we came back to the TA with nothing to show, but hey, #SeaToShingles.
This is the first time we have access to our bins. Geoff grabs our tent and begins to set it up, while I grab two of the most AMAZING egg and cheese sandwiches we've ever had in our entire lives.
We lay down in the tent, without much of a plan of what comes next. It's around midnight. Geoff falls asleep in - I'm not exaggerating - seconds. It's a skill of his passed down from his mother Louise, and a skill that I am entirely jealous of.
I, on the other hand, am suddenly feeling the effects of 8+ hours in a canoe, in the sun, on the water. I'm sunburned and wildly uncomfortable, and before I know it, I'm DEEP into that dark place that every super-long-distance endurance athlete experiences from time to time.
The place where you convince yourself this was a bad idea, and that you're not cut out for it.
The place where you start to feel sorry for yourself.
The place where you start contemplating what steps you need to take to back out, to quit.
I spend hours here, feeling like an asshole for being in a low already. But as I contemplate the "quitting" side of things, I remember two very important facts:
- We're still around 100+ miles from our car, and that's if we head back by car. If I quit, I'd likely have to sit around for quite sometime until someone could get us to the finish line, and that would suck. But more importantly:
- Everyone always says the first night is the hardest night.
I grasp onto that second concept and hold on for dear life. I put on a long sleeve wool shirt I have that is conveniently soaked still from the paddle, and it instantly cools my skin. I pop a ginger candy into my mouth, and it instantly cools my stomach. I lay down, and eventually fall asleep.
Leg 3: Trek CP 19-29
Distance: 0 miles (we skipped it)
Maps: Bonus maps
0/11 CP's obtained
Around 5:30 am I wake up, look at my watch, and wake Geoff up. He's been asleep for around 5 hours now, and I think I squeaked in about 2 hours.
I ask him how he's feeling - shingles and all - and he's hanging in there. The next leg is a foot section estimated to be about 16-20 miles that both starts and finishes at this very TA.
We make a team decision to skip this leg, and instead continue making forward progress by skipping to the bike section.
So I once again check in with the volunteer, claim another big fat "zero" (we're now down 27 CP's), grab our next punch card, and head on our way.
Leg 4: Bike CP 30A - 41
Distance: 70 ish miles (112km)
Time: 11 ish hours.
Total Time: 32:28:33
5/17 CP's obtained
It's now Friday morning, and we will basically spend the entire day on our bikes. That two hour nap energized me in ways I could have never expected. And spoiler alert: the "first night is the worst" advice that I was given would hold true for the rest of the race. Sure I'd have more lows, but nothing like I experienced the first night.
We collect the CP's that are easily found along the bike route, but do not spend a ton of time hunting them down, sticking to our "just get to the finish line of #SeatoShingles" plan.
There were highs, there were lows, and there were a lot of 5 minute "sitting" breaks in order to keep ourselves cool in the 85+ degree temps.
There were ash covered trails through controlled burn sections, there were paved park trails where an old man laughed at us for needing a map. ("You don't need that, it's virtually impossible to get lost in here!" he shouted at us as he rode by on his cruiser.)
There was a snowman made of tires...
...and a voodoo doll in the middle of the swamp that is still giving me nightmares.
There was the pair of older gentlemen who who entertained us with stories of running high school track with the legendary Bill Rodgers while we sat on the edge of the trail tending to our feet.
There was a turtle I made friends with, and an oak tree I cried under.
There was the long, unshaded, grassy trail next to a canal.
And there was Forest Road #37.
Picture this: we’re about 68 miles into this 70 mile ride. This is the longest I’ve EVER been on my bike in one shot in my entire life. It’s blazing hot for February (85+) degrees, and I’m understandably ready to get off the f&*^$ing bike.
We see the left hand turn for the last 4 km stretch to the transition area. We’re riding along at around 20km/pace, which means we’ve got like, TWELVE minutes left until I can take a break. We take the turn and see this:
4 km of uphill, ankle deep, sugar sand. Not even Geoff’s Surly would make it through. I’ve never felt so sucker-punched by mother nature in my entire life. It took us well over an hour to make that trek, and I had to stop to dump sand out of my shoes 3 times because they were SO full I couldn’t move my toes.
Forest Road 37 - I tip my hat to you, you brutal, beautiful beast.
TA #2 / Nap #2
We make it to TA#2 at the Juniper Springs Recreation area just before sunset. Hunter Leininger of ARGeorgia tells us we're among the first 10 teams to make it here. This is no surprise, as we essentially spent no time looking for CP's.
We both inhale veggie burgers and cokes (thank you volunteers!), then I take advantage of the TA's location and enjoy a hot, indoor shower.
This race truly spoiled me.
We set up the tent, this time setting an alarm for 2 hours. Geoff instantly falls asleep again, and I manage to squeak out about 45 minutes before the alarm goes off.
We get up, repack our tent, and head to the volunteers to grab our next punch card. We run into Hunter again who thought we had left a few hours ago, got lost, and found our way back here again. He was VERY concerned until we informed him we were actually just down the hill in a tent, taking a nap.
And we then coined our new catch phrase for the rest of the race: cuddling is greater than winning.
Leg 5: Trek, CP 42 - 54
Distance: 35 ish miles (56km)
Total Time: 51:46:28
CP's obtained 5/13
Coming from an ultrarunning background, walking through the woods at night is my specialty. Initially, the thought of a 30+ mile trek felt daunting, but at this point, I was ready for something familiar.
We took off on our trek somewhere around 10 pm on Friday night. Leaving the TA, we almost immediately stepped on the Cross Seminole Trail section of the Florida National Scenic Trail (the same trail from the previous evening that we weren't sure we could mountain bike on).
We're also almost immediately greeted by the cutest, tiny little owl who swooped over our heads and landed in a tree branch right in front of us. I hoot at him like he can understand me, and of course, capture it all on GoPro.
We collect check points as we come across them, but we don't spend more than 5 minutes (at most) looking for them. Forward progress is the plan of attack.
In general, we're moving right a long, passing other teams regularly as I say something like "excuse me, my old lady mall walking pace game is strong right now!" (it was). We're also in really good spirits, cracking jokes and listening to music as we head down the trail.
We even blew through the normal "witching hour" of 3 am with no problems at all. Then, 5:00 am hit.
I suddenly grew so tired, I felt like I was sleep walking. But I was convinced that we were no more than a few kilometers from the 88 Store - a well known store/watering hole on the Florida Trail that through hikers often frequented, and happened to be the location of a CP.
But I was wrong.
I was somehow quite a few kilometers off, meaning we still had at least another HOUR to go before the respite of convenience store junk food. And this realization left me feeling defeated.
I really, really like convenience store junk food.
Heartbroken that I have to wait even longer for fun snacks, we find a clearing on the side of the trail and decide to take a break. Geoff busts out the self-heating O meals we've been saving for an emotionally low point, and this was it.
I know I tend to get more "hangry" than most, but I think everyone can agree that there is nothing like hot, hearty food to warm your spirits and pull you out of a funk. These O-meals do exactly that (my favorite is the vegetarian Pasta Fagioli, and they didn't pay me to say any of this).
After we scarf down our breakfast pasta (which is a new concept to me that I can totally get behind), Geoff lays down and IMMEDIATELY falls asleep once again. Have I mentioned how jealous I am of this skill?
I, on the other hand, close my eyes but toss and turn, wallowing over the fact that being "too tired to sleep" is actually a thing. I hear multiple teams pass us, including team "The Rookies" who actually RAN BY at a decent clip.
Not only ran, but I heard the female athlete of the pair say cheerfully "I was afraid I was going to have to miss my Saturday morning run!" as she passed by.
I want to be her when I grow up.
After about an hour I wake Geoff up and tell him we should keep moving. The sun is finally rising and it's comfortably cool on trail.
It takes us a solid hour to reach 88's. We grab the CP at the edge of the trail and immediately head inside. We buy water, gatorade, two energy shots, and the best popsicle I have ever had in my entire adult life.
We take maybe 15 to 20 minutes to sit and enjoy our snacks, while talking with some other racers about things like how high maintenance pet birds and pet rabbits can be (answer: incredibly high maintenance).
Eventually, it's time get back on our feet and keep moving forward. At this point, we've got 5 CP's and a few hours to go before we reach the next TA.
And, we have a decision to make.
If we continue to take the Florida Trail all the way to the TA, we will pass by those 5 CP's, but we will be on a much longer route - about 23 km of trail.
If we take Forest Road 88 (which is also FR 11, I think?) we'll get to the TA in a much more straight forward shot of around 16 km. However, it's 9:30 am and already pushing 80+ degrees, and this road looks to be mainly unshaded.
I push to take the trail, knowing that my body doesn't want to spend more time in direct sunlight...and I wanted to gather some more CP's. Geoff pushes for the road, citing his feet can't take another 23 km of trail. Plus, his route would get us to the TA in probably half of the time.
And since Geoff is the one with the shingles - he wins. We take the road.
It was a long, hot walk. I never knew a road could be so straight, for so many miles. Fortunately, we are well versed in unshaded, long, sandy forest roads (thank you Chad Haffa and Hell Hole Hundred).
We sing. We complain. We rejoice in how awesome (and sometimes stupid) this sport is. We take turns with Geoff's sunglasses, because I accidentally left mine in my bike bag on my bike.
For the majority of the trek we just keep pushing, but eventually we adapt a 20 minutes of walking / 5 minutes of sitting on the side of the road in the shade interval.
It was worth it.
Per usual, the last 2 km into the TA were the longest. At one point we stopped to take a break and watched a black bear cross the road right in front of us. Naturally, my GoPro reaction time was NOT fast enough at this point to catch it on camera, so you'll just have to take my word for it. There was a bear. Add another point to my Nat Geo scorecard.
TA #3, Nap #4, & the Paddle O- Relays We Skipped
TA 3 provided us with our bins, amazing burritos, shade, and incredibly comfortable grass to lay in.
We were also handed two sheets of "Trail Mail" from those following us at home, which put a huge smile on both of our faces (thank you!).
There were two paddle orienteering relays here (which would be leg 6, incase you are wondering why I skipped that in this blog post). Initially, we had planned to skip these Cps, but I was feeling riled up from the energy shot I had taken just a few hours earlier.
So I told Geoff he should nap, while I would go out and try to get some of the CP's in a kayak. I went as far as grabbing the punch card and first O-relay map before changing my mind, and deciding to lay down again.
Spoiler alert: Geoff was almost immediately snoring, and I didn't sleep at all.
Leg 7: Paddle, CP 55-58
Distance: 12 ish miles (19km)
Time: 5:45:48 (this may have included that nap)
Total Time: 57:32:16
Maps : 22 & 23
CP's obtained: 1/4
Back in the boats we go. Right from the start I'm struggling to navigate, and this causes Geoff and I to get snippy with each other. Normally, I enjoy navigating on the water because it's easy to read the bends in the river.
But now, 52 ish hours into a race where I have slept for maybe 3 hours, I am struggling. We look for CP 55 with a handful of other teams. But when it's not immediately where we think it should be, we say "fuck it" and get back into our boats.
Thankfully, I got it together in time to nail CP 56, which required taking our canoe up a canal littered with downed trees and SURELY the home to a very large alligator. Further proof includes the lady on the shore near the entrance of the canal that yelled "you guys probably don't want to be going up there!"
We went anyway, and got the CP.
From that point, we had about another 10K to paddle before we reached Little Lake George. I mentally checked out, and therefore, had no idea where we were at any given time. I kept thinking we were "only a kilometer away" for a few hours.
At least the sunset was pretty.
As we finally did reach the entrance to Little Lake George, we got buzzed by a guy in a cigarette boat. I'm absolutely shocked we didn't roll the canoe, and I'm entirely grateful that I was too exhausted to care. Because in retrospect, that was probably terrifying.
Speaking of slightly terrifying, the sun has now set, and we have about a 2.5km open water crossing to make. I shoot a bearing on the map, bring my compass up and find something on the dark skyline to focus on. We crack our glow sticks - which in retrospect DO NOT feel like enough to keep the motor boats away - put our heads down, and paddle.
And we absolutely NAIL the boat take out in a straight shot, in the dark. I'm pretty damn proud of that one.
Leg 8: Trek, CP 59
Distance: 5km? Maybe?
Total Time: 59:08:43
CP's obtained: 0/1
We're given a clue for the only CP on this short trek to TA 4. We head out on the trek feeling strong and confident...and then fall apart.
I think at this point my sense of time and distance is incredibly skewed. Looking at the tracking now, I realize we had greatly under estimated how far we had to go to get CP 59.
But what really happened was that we were convinced we had gone too far, couldn't figure out where we were, so we headed out to the nearest road, and walked through the grass on the shoulder to the TA.
TA#4, Nap #5
We get to TA #4 and a volunteer offers us up a tent. We take him up on it, and climb in. We break out our safety blankets and Geoff, again, immediately falls asleep.
My body starts doing something it's never done in my entire life. I'd experience what would almost feel like a small bug bite on my leg, and it would immediately turn into about 2-3 seconds of my whole body convulsing.
I started to wonder if the sand in the bottom of the tent that I was laying in was not sand, but in fact, tiny bugs, like sea lice. I turn on my headlamp and stare at the grains of sand, trying to see if they're moving. They aren't, because they are just sand.
Nevertheless, I pull out a wet wipe and totally clean off my legs, hoping it will help.
The convulsions get so strong they wake Geoff up, who thinks I'm shivering. I assure him I'm not cold at all, I just can't stop twitching.
Suddenly he's shivering too...and wondering why his feet are soaking wet.
Somehow, he had managed to roll over on the hose of his hydration bladder and absolutely flooded his side of the tent - and all of his stuff - in a Gatorade water mix.
Needless to say, it's time to cut our losses and get up.
Leg 9 Bike, CP 60-61
Distance: 12 ish miles (20km)
Time: 5:43:17 (includes previous nap)
Total Time: 64:52:00
Maps: 24 & 25
CP's obtained: 1/2
It takes us a while to get on the road and start this short bike leg. First of all, Geoff had to dry all of his belongings off as best as he could from the great Gatorade incident. Then, when we got on our bikes, we did a few circles trying to figure out exactly where we were in relation to the map.
But eventually, we're headed on a 12 mile urban ride, with Welaka State Forest as our next stop.
I'm grateful that it's around 1:00 am, as there is absolutely zero traffic on the road. We collect one single check point on the way...because it's quite literally on the guardrail of the road we are traveling on. It couldn't be missed.
Leg 10: O-Relay (foot) - Skipped
On our way to the bike drop, Geoff and I had convinced ourselves that the reason there were only do-it-yourself peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the last TA, was because they had moved all of the volunteers, grills, and good food to the bike drop at this park.
We roll into the bike drop at Welaka State Forest and find a lone volunteer sitting in the back of a lone van. No grills. No tents. Our slight disappointment in that moment made us realize how spoiled we had become over the last three days. Normally adventure races don't give you anything at all, not even water. And here we are feeling pouty at the lone table with chips and granola bars.
We tell the volunteer that we're skipping the O-relay, and he doesn't seem surprised in the slightest. A lot of people had done the same.
Leg 11: Bike, CP 68-72
Distance: 55 ish miles (90km)
Total Time: 72:53:58
CP's obtained: 3/5
We head back out and onto a park service road and proceed to get the MOST lost that we have been all race.
But we weren't alone.
It's incredibly foggy out, and we're in the middle of state forest, on a grassy road, with endless side roads jutting off to the sides. The fog quickly gets everyone turned around. After heading South East for sometime when we should have been going North West, Geoff and I decide to back track. That's when we met the first team who is also headed in the wrong direction.
We pair up with them to try and find our way out. Moments later a group of another dozen riders meets up with us. A couple of them are CERTAIN they are on the right path, and even though we tell them we had just gone in literal circles on this particular path, they head down the trail anyway.
The other 8 or so decide to follow us.
For once in my short adventure racing career, I decide to listen to my own instincts and not follow others who look far more confident. It was a slow-going 6 km, including another road full of sugar sand, and breaching a fence line, but I got us to where we needed to be.
Shortly thereafter we hop on a bike lane. And at some point after that (time is a blur at this point) we come across the most beautiful thing I have seen all weekend:
A CIRCLE K GAS STATION/CONVENIENCE STORE.
The curb in front of the store is littered with adventure racers, and I am giddy. I park my bike, march inside, and buy the biggest, gooiest, frosted cinnamon bun you can imagine, and pair it with an energy drink.
Back outside I park myself next to a dumpster on a piece of sidewalk that smells strongly of urine, and eat that pastry with a massive grin on my face.
It was pure magic.
The next few hours are a blur of both busy roads and bike paths. We're on a busy main road just before sunrise when everyone is rushing off to work, which I find pretty scary.
But we hit the Palatka-to-Saint-Augustine-State-Trail (which was a paved bike path) just in time to watch the sun come up over potato fields (or at least, that's what I gathered from a number of signs we passed). At this point, I'm absolutely exhausted, but the sunrising and the fact that we are on the home stretch has me feeling pretty damn positive.
We come across a few more CP's, which at this point was just icing on the cake.
And then we hit the main roads of St. Augustine.
If ever there was a point in this race where I thought to myself "no thanks, I never want to do this again", it was the last 30 km of this race.
Now, I don't blame the race director - living in a coastal, touristy town myself, I can confirm that it's virtually impossible to get TO the ocean on the east coast without driving through traffic.
But it didn't make it any less scary for me, a non-road-cyclist.
We rode about 15 km through city streets from 2-5 lanes wide in either direction, with speed limits upwards of 55 mph, crossing endless roads, and riding up on and over multiple bridges. In some sections, the bike lane was so bad (garbage, dead raccoons, chunks of pavement) that I rode on the sidewalk with absolutely zero shame (even though I recognize this is in poor form).
I basically white knuckled my way to the St. Johns County ocean pier, where we would collect our last CP, and fill our bottles the rest of the way with sand from the East Coast.
SEA TO FINISH LINE!
The ocean front respite only lasted so long, it was time for another 15 km ride to the finish line. Fortunately, this route involved roads with 25 mph speed limits, and endless signs that encouraged bikes to take up the ENTIRE lane.
Despite there being heavy traffic (it was around 9 am in a tourist town on a beautiful Sunday morning) all of the motorists that passed us were respectful.
Nevertheless, I white knuckled my way to that finish line. Emotionally, our finish felt relatively anticlimactic simply because all I could think about was how relieved I was to not be riding in traffic anymore.
We were given finishers medals, handed in our tracker and last punch card. and bellied up to an all you can eat bar of Moe's burritos (welcome to Moe's!). This was, hands down, the best finish line feast I have ever experienced.
Frankly, anything where I have access to unlimited queso dip will immediately qualify as "best ever", but I digress.
And with only 23 points...Team HSEC!
We spend the next 90 minutes or so vacillating between gathering up our gear, bringing it to the van, and laying in the grass. I am so utterly exhausted I can't even SEE straight, but it's only around 11 am, and we can't check into our hotel room until 2.
At some point, we are laying in the grass outside of the big tent. I have two ice cold gatorade bottles resting over my eyes like I'm at some sort of strange day spa, and my legs are doing that twitchy - convulsing thing again.
Geoff and I are having a hilarious conversation in which one person starts a sentence, but falls half asleep before finishing the sentence, and the other person goes "wait, were you talking to me? I think I was sleeping."
At some point I sort of recognize the fact that RD Jeff has started the post race awards. I hear him move on to the two person co-ed category, and perk up a bit. I want to hear how badly we got our asses kicked by the non-shingles teams.
I honestly have NO idea how many CP's we had collected. I hadn't kept track, as we weren't trying to be competitive. RD Jeff starts talking about how the third place co-ed team of two "only" collected 23 points, and he gave a little laugh as well (for reference, there were 72 regular CP's and 6 bonus CP's, and yes, some teams got all of them). Then he announced that team was 235, Team HSEC.
Geoff and I both bolt up from our napping position in absolute shock. DID HE JUST SAY OUR NAME?
We're not in the tent, so I start yelling "we're over here, hold on, I'm sorry, we're coming" as we scramble to put on shoes, hop the fence, and collect our trophies.
Granted, there were only 6 total co-ed teams of 2 in the entire race, but with our #SeaToShingles approach, we figured we'd be dead last.
As I write this, it's Friday, March 3rd. We have had 5 solid nights of sleep since the race ended, and I've had plenty of time to process our experience.
And the overwhelming feeling is that I'm really damn glad we decided to go to Sea to Sea, despite Geoff's case of the shingles.
No, we didn't have the race we had initially hoped for, but we ended up having the race we needed (isn't there a song about that?).
We had the opportunity to rip the bandaid off of multi-day racing in a super laid back, non intimidating way.
We got to spend a much, much needed 72 hours mostly off of the grid. Geoff and I LOVE what we do for a living (and most days I still can't believe it's our life), but we are glued to our computers for long hours, most days of the week.
We got to work on our adventure racing skills, both as individuals and as a duo, which for me, was a big confidence booster - especially after our last disaster of a race.
We got to see some gorgeous parts of Florida, meet some amazing people, and spend some time together. Which, despite what Mr. Hart may think, is something I will never grow tired of.
Thank you, Sea to Sea staff, volunteers, and fellow races for a hell of an amazing time. We'll be back for more...