Dawn to Dusk Adventure Race. May 14 2011
It took us 12½ hours to go just 42 miles (67 Km). The race started with an epic hike along the ridge that runs through the Sana Lucia Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest. The cool part is we almost got to the big antenna that can be seen off to the right as you drive up the grade from San Luis Obispo to Atascadero.
We started the race at 7:30 am, east of where Pozo Road narrows and Santa Margarita Valley ends. They loaded us on a bus a little after 6 AM, and the bus made a couple of trips to get everyone to the start line.
The initial hike was from a trail-head parking area up to the ridge line. This was slow as there were 100 or more racers of all abilities on the narrow trail. But by the first checkpoint (2 Km into the race and on the ridge) we had gotten on a jeep trail and everyone was running/hiking at their own pace. The route appeared easy, but a couple of Km later the ridge split 3 ways and racers went in all 3 directions. Fortunately we chose the correct route and got to the second checkpoint ahead of lots of good teams.
We ran the downhill’s (something we normally do not do) and got ahead of our usual pace so made a mistake an hour later when we thought we were further up the ridge than we were. The uphill’s had slowed us down, but we were still calculating distance at the run pace. The “detour” took us about 3 Km out of our way. Fortunately the roads and terrain did not match the trails we were expecting and while other teams were running past us (so they were off-course also) we read the map more thoroughly and turned around after about 1500m. It was a climb back up to the ridge, but on a good jeep trail. We continued for about another hour on the ridge trail which was sometimes there, but more often we had to bushwhack through Pine trees, Manzanita bushes and other scrub plants then get to a clearing then bushwhack again. We overshot the turnoff to CP3 (which was just a water chute down the side of the hill) as we were trying too hard to get ahead of a group of about 15-18 racers. We climbed the hill in the center photo below and came up behind the antennas. It was seeing the antennas, looking at the different ridges and taking bearings that convinced us we had gone too far (but only by about 500m – though that was 20-25 minutes of bushwhack).
When we got back on track the trail went through what I would describe as a poison oak forest. It was everywhere and you just had to get through it. We crawled under foliage, climbed over vines and attempted to follow a trail others had blazed before us. One minute you were in thick brush, and then you were on what appeared to be a well-worn trail, to have it disappear 50 meters later. When we eventually got to CP3 we were team 38 of 58 to check in. While this was far back in the pack we preferred to think of ourselves as having 20 teams still behind us. Then it was an easy 45 minute walk to CP4 where our bikes were.
Only the first 4 checkpoints were mandatory, the trek was the emphasis of this race. We figured that including our mistakes we hiked about 15 miles (25 Km) and it took us almost 6½ hours to get that far. But it was one of the greatest treks we have had in a long while and except for the unfortunate poison oak it was a really great trail, with plenty of side tracks to make the navigation challenging.
At the bike transition we plotted the 7 bike checkpoints and from the master map plotted the kayak checkpoints to come up with a plan for the remainder of the race. Because of how we felt (tired), how long the race had taken so far (longer than we anticipated), and how we were not strong bikers compared to kayakers (plus the fact we wanted to do the Zipline which was on the kayak section), we elected to do just 3 easy bike checkpoints and skip the remaining ones. So our bike section was just 13 miles (23 Km) and took a little over 70 minutes. We were lucky to ride some fun new single track trails but nothing too difficult. This was all inside a private ranch and vineyard area of Miller Flat.
At the kayak we had to paddle about 2 Km to the Zipline which was a 300ft (92m) line across an arm of Santa Margarita Lake. It was awesome. I went across hanging upside down with no arms on the brake line. Steve and Dave dunked in the lake as they went across and Teri was laughing all the time. When leaving the Zipline we saw our friends Jake and Dave and they told us their team had pulled out of the race (but they wanted to do the Zipline), because one of the bike legs we skipped was so hard it forced one of their teammates to drop from the race. That got us to be very happy about our short bike section, but also got us to wondering if other teams were having as much trouble on the bike and maybe we should race harder and get all the kayak checkpoints then go back and get one of the bike checkpoints that we skipped. So we set some time limits to gage our progress and did just that. We finished the 12 mile (20 Km) kayak section in a little over 4 hours and instead of crossing the finish line we got some food from the finish BBQ and hiked up a ridge in the park to get one of the bike checkpoints. Even though it was a bike CP, there was no rule to say how you went to it and since it was an optional checkpoint you could get it in any sequence.
All through the race we were wondering where our old teammate Kristine and her team were. They were 50 minutes ahead of us at CP3 and we saw them at one point on the bike. But they were stronger bikers and had rented sit-on-top kayaks so we knew they would do more bike than kayak checkpoints. As we came down the hill from the last checkpoint (the extra bike one we got) they were going up to get it so we raced to the line to beat them – but we were unsure how many checkpoints they had to know if we beat them overall or not.
We finished in 12 hours 21 minutes and were all happy in how much of the course we did. We only skipped 3 optional checkpoints in the end and most importantly we had lots of fun. This is the same race that last year we went off-course by more than 41 miles (66 Km) and barely finished. This year we were over the finish line an hour before the cut-off time, and we were drinking beer and eating BBQ as other teams finished, so it was a good race for us.
When they announced awards about 9 PM we were surprised when they announced us as second place, and even more surprised when the first place team had to decline the award as they changed from a 4-person mixed team to a 4-person all male team, so we got promoted to FIRST place 4-person mixed. A nice way to finish the day and beat some very, very, good teams that did not quite have the luck we did on skipping difficult checkpoints. Dave and Jake’s team (Albion Brewing) was second place and Kristine’s team (Captain K and the Pretty Boys) was third place. First place overall was a 3-person team - Team Tecnu, getting all checkpoints in a mere 9½ hours. We will have to wait for published results to see how we fared overall compared to the 2 person and 3 person teams or the other category teams. But we had the ultimate fun we could pack into a 12 hour day, which was our goal, and the fact we got trophies was a nice bonus.
A big thank you to All Out Adventures who put this race on. This was the 6th version of Dawn to Dusk and I have run 4 of the 6. Each time is different, each time is a challenge and each time I say it is probably the most fun race I participate in that year. Definitely the most fun 8-12 hour race each year.
Thank you also to the sponsors, especially Tecnu who provided cleansing at CP4 (after the PO forest), Tecnu showers at the finish line and product for any racers who suffer from Poison Oak.
(1)Fun on the bike. (2)Teri wants wine. (3)Small river crossings.