Missing Bike Parts, More Bike Issues, The Mind Wanders, Last is not Last
Editors note: This is the fourth and final installment in a four-part story from Rachel Furman of Team R&R documenting their experience in the 2023 Expedition Ozark Adventure Race. If you haven’t read the first three installments, we recommend starting there. (Expedition Ozark 2023 Race Report – Team R&R – Chapter One). Photos courtesy of Expedition Ozark.
The rest of the paddle was not that eventful, other than a quick portage, and the conditions calmed down as we were treated to another beautiful sunset. We got to the Transition Area (TA) just in time to not need headlamps. There were a lot of other teams there getting ready to set off on the final bike, but I knew we needed at least an hour of sleep before we could go anywhere. We set about building bikes and getting everything ready before we would sleep. As I was getting my bike ready, I realized that I had made a very critical error at the last TA – I had left the two little cap pieces that bolt my handlebars onto my stem! I have done a lot of expedition races with this bike and always have a system for ensuring I don’t do just that – I set them on the side of my bike box and then immediately screw them back on so they are on the bike. Apparently this time, I didn’t screw them back on. They are probably still in the leaves on that spur at Hobbs. Despair started to set in as I realized I may have just screwed us out of finishing this race just when we were closing in. The main TA volunteer started to message other volunteers on their group chat and make some calls for me – you are allowed to borrow a bike or bike parts from other teams or even volunteers per ARWS rules. I knew for sure Mari Chandler was done with the race so I told them to ask her if I could borrow her bike, but I don’t think they understood what I was asking. But, there was a woman volunteering at the TA who told me that I was welcome to borrow her bike! She made some phone calls and a family member was going to bring it. She said it would be a little while, which worked perfectly for us because we needed to sleep anyway. We finished TA’ing and then got the best sleep we’d had all race until they woke me to say the bike had arrived.
Dealing with the Bike Issues
Her bike was a Trek but I have no idea what model. I realized it wasn’t going to be a comfortable ride to the finish but at least it was a bike. And at least we could finish. We got ready to go and then headed out. Immediately I was uncomfortable with the fit but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Robert looked over and said, “I think that stem will fit your bike!” We 180’d back to the TA and spent more time swapping over the stem, which thankfully did work. I was going to put her bike in my bike box but she was still there and was able to take it. After all of that, the last few teams had come in off the paddle and left – we were now literally the last team to leave this TA. But, I was at least on my own bike and we were on the road. I urged us along, hoping that we could still make some good time.
At the second Check Point (CP), we saw another team – the Danish team who had left the TA quite a bit before us! They apparently had had trouble finding it – it certainly wasn’t their bike speed as they quickly left us in their dust. Finally, we started getting to the Back Forty trail system in Bella Vista. We decided to get CP3 and then possibly CP4, but skip those on the northwest section since we were quickly running out of race time. After hitting CP3 without an issue, we then ran into some trouble. I wanted to take the old gravel double-track we were on out, but a big erosion spot made us take an offshoot to the side we shouldn’t have. As we made our way up and down a few gullies, Robert slid a little bit off the trail and I heard a big popping sound that sounded suspiciously like another broken spoke and a flat tire. Which is exactly what it was! He tried to put a tube in and the spoke was still through the rim and popped it, so a second tube was needed. The repair took a while and there wasn’t much I could do so I slept a little bit. The Danes came by again but from the opposite direction, the navigator clearly confused about where we were. I had figured out that we needed to get back down to the valley where the eroded trail threw us off, so we ended up backtracking to get back on the right route. Then unfortunately I made another error – I was looking for a southeasterly turn and turned too early. We climbed the wrong ridge and ended up back where we were before CP3. After getting a bit disoriented, I finally figured it out and we hightailed it towards the next TA.
Skipping the Rope Work
The last little section on foot was a rappel and cave. The rappel was a Pro point so we skipped it for time, but went into the cave (creepy, in my opinion) and got one more mandatory CP on foot before returning to our bikes for the last ride in. Because of Robert’s broken spoke/tube situation, we skipped all the singletrack on the way in, although I had wanted to try to get the very last one. I was having a lot of trouble reading the map by then, though, so we missed it and got all the way to the finish before I realized it. Then, in a drunken stupor, I mean sleep-deprived stupor, I decided we should still try to bike back down the hill and get it. We got within a hundred meters of it, but it was swarming with 8-hour adventure racers, as the 8-hour race had just started. I didn’t think they would have us share controls and didn’t have the energy to go look at it, so we turned around and went to the finish for the second time. Thankfully we didn’t lose a place by one CP, because that would have been embarrassing for sure.
We crossed the finish line with probably only 20 or so minutes to spare before the cut-off, and literally as the last team to finish. Mark Harris came to get the trackers from us and said that it was fun to watch us come in. I asked him why and he said, “Because you were the last ones!” Haha!
So, even though we were the last finishers, we were not last place. We finished with 78 CPs, good enough for 12th overall and the first-place two-person team. We certainly had had a good shot at clearing the course, if not for our debacle of a TA at Byrd’s due to the indecision around sheltering and my idiot moment of losing my bike parts. If I hadn’t messed up my bike we probably would have cleared the Back Forty points for sure. But, such is adventure racing. We were very happy with how it ended up after all that, anyway.
Here is their finish video.
Just a few notes:
All the wildlife we saw – so many butterflies! Turtles, armadillos, copperheads, an immature eagle, blue herons, kingfishers, an osprey, beavers, and more. We ticked them off and tried to remember all of them.
Being in the woods for a full week with nothing to focus on except navigation and racing was such a nice thing for my brain. And, this being my first expedition race navigating the whole time, I was pleased that I never fully lost it. I did make more errors on the bike towards the end of the race, but in general, we were never too far off course and I figured it out relatively quickly.
An expedition race as a two-person team is interesting – one person has to focus on the maps and the other person doesn’t really have anybody to talk to the way you do with a four-person team. Also, all the duties fall to one or the other of you. I think Robert and I split duties well and worked together well, and it was definitely a different kind of experience than it has been for me with 4-person teams. In a good way!
Would you like to learn more about orienteering (you know, all that navigation stuff)? Check out Orienteering Central Arkansas. Also, If you’d like to give Adventure Racing a try, check out Raid the Rock.