Teammates Tim Johnston, Katrin Tobin, and Mike Erbe, aka Team Adventure Sports Journal, held the lead in the Big Blue Adventure Race Series going into the final event …the challenging Big Blue Championship, held on September 11th.
Race day dawned in spectacular Lake Tahoe fashion: cool, clear, and thankfully, unlike the 2003 edition of the race, with no wind to antagonize the waters we’d be kayaking in. The Big Blue Championship was to be the longest and toughest of the four series events. And the point stakes had been raised for those of us competing for the Overall Series. Our wins at Red Tail and Silver Sage had put us atop the leader board in the 3-Person coed category, but the halo of Team Our Angel Nicole glimmered in our peripheral vision. It would take a 4th place finish or better to beat them to the Pearly Gates of Big Blue Heaven.
The race began with a brisk run from North Tahoe Regional Park to Kings Beach, where the kayak started. We had identified the Silly Rabbits (4-Person Coed) as a team of distinction due to their astounding finish times in previous races so we felt confident with them leading the way. It appears we were in good company as the entire herd of kayaks chased the Rabbits all the way to Carnelian Bay.
We paddled back to King’s Beach and after dropping off the kayaks, ran back up to the bike staging area at the park. As usual, given Tim’s pace, it was intense. After charging up to the Sawmill Flat checkpoint by bike, teams chose which to tackle first: eight bike check points in and around Northstar or eight Orienteering checkpoints on foot.
We headed out toward Mt Pluto on our bikes hoping to take advantage of frisky cycling legs. We pedaled intently up the paved Fiberboard Freeway to the back of Mt Pluto. We had raced to the top of Northstar’s ski mountain from Tahoe City the year before so we pedaled with conviction in the efficacy of our route choice. The absence of other teams should have concerned us. But at the time, we figured most of the teams were opting to Orienteer first and bike later, and smugly thought we might simply be ahead of the rest…
The scenery was spectacular, the cycling terrain a blast, and we all felt good. In fact, at one point Katrin was unstoppable as she zoomed down a wickedly fun single track, leaving Tim and Mike in a cloud of dust! As a result, the endorphin levels stayed high even though, as usual, we did a bit of head scratching with regard to matching our actual position to the squiggles on our maps. “Where do YOU think that we are?”
We eventually made it back out of the woods to the Sawmill Flat checkpoint and the Orienteering section of the race. We had brushed up (pun intended) on the map symbols, and were really concentrating on using our altimeter and compass. With Tim leading the charge, we managed to pick off seven of the eight checkpoints with no problem. As for number eight… Well, that one took a bit longer as we ran around in the forest mumbling, “It’s gotta be here someplace!”
It was then back on the bikes for a return ride to the park, and the finish line. Tim set a blistering pace, and boldly led us along some white-knuckle fire roads as we descended back toward the lake. We sprinted, still
grinning, across the finish line with a time of eight hours and 13 minutes and 3rd in our division.
As we awaited the final results and feasted on the post-race BBQ, we compared strategies and routes with other teams. It wasn’t until another racer commented, “I thought the Fiberboard Freeway was off limits,” that our grins faded a bit. Back in a huddle, we carefully uncrumpled our race instructions and read, “No riding on pavement west of Sawmill Flat.” No wonder we hadn’t seen very many teams out there – they had climbed the trails at the front of the mountain while we were skirting around the back.
Todd Jackson, the organizer of the Big Blue Series, frequently mentions the cerebral aspect of adventure racing. There is more to this sport than just going fast. Not only do you have have to think your way from checkpoint
to checkpoint but you also have to carefully read and digest the race rules! We told Todd what had transpired, accepting responsibility and any consequences for our mistake. It was some consolation that we were not the
only team that had blown it. We were given a two hour time penalty, which bumped us down to 8th place in the co-ed division for the day. Absolved of our foolish sins, and given our top finishes in the other three races, we were still left with enough points for second place in the series. Kudos to our angelic (and intelligent) rival, Team Our Angel Nicole, who raced piously enroute to winning the Series Championship.
This was Team ASJ’s first full season of adventure racing. We got schooled and had a blast. The teamwork, the training, and the learning elevated us both as a team and as individuals. And, we really need to thank the folks at ASJ for being so helpful and supportive. They exemplify the very spirit of adventure racing.
EDITOR’S NOTE: There is evidence indicating that the members of team ASJ have not yet hit the off-season couch. In fact, even after fixing a flat tire, Katrin turned in an amazing performance and placed 2nd in the Santa Cruz Sentinel Triathlon on Sept. 26. Tim returned to Lake Tahoe, and garnered a fantastic 3rd place finish at the X-Terra Triathlon on Sept. 25. He will be heading off to the XTerra World Championship race later this
month. Meanwhile, Mike also raced in the Sentinel Triathlon, finishing 2nd in his 45-49 age group. The very next weekend he placed 4th overall and won his age group in Scott Tinley’s Off-Road Extreme Triathlon.
Team ASJ at Xterra Nevada
by Tim Johnston
It was another great race weekend at Lake Tahoe as I represented Team ASJ at the Xterra Nevada off road triathlon.
Two triathlons were held in Incline Village during the last week of September – the USA Championships, which are reserved to Xterra series point leaders, and Xterra Nevada, which is open to anyone hearty enough to want to conquer the tough course. Having raced only one Xterra event this year, I did not have enough points to qualify for the championship race, but wanted to give the Nevada course a shot. The bike course and distance are the same in both races, but the swim is shorter (thank goodness!) and so is the run.
The swim started with a cannon blast. All 259 competitors ran to the water’s edge, and then tenderly stepped on the rocky lake floor until the water was deep enough to dive. I wondered why the swim would start in such a rocky area – then I remembered I was racing Xterra, where nothing is conventional or easy.
Despite rumors that the water was “relatively warm,” my feet and hands were numb upon exiting the water and starting the much anticipated mountain bike ride. But the bike course made it all worth it. It was an
absolutely amazing 18 miles of the best single-track, rock-jumping, edge balancing, technical riding that stayed true to the spirit of offroad riding. Much of the trail ride gave a thousand-foot view of the clear lake below.
The run was a dizzying 3.1 miles, meandering through creeks, over logs, under branches, then over the creek again on a narrow felled tree.
My finishing time of 2:30:51 put me at the top of my age group and 3rd overall in the race.
And now…off to Nissan Xterra World Championship in Maui!