Our Everyday Adventures

We are not adventurers by choice but by fate – Van Gogh

GrizzlyMan and Black Bear Challenge Adventure Race 2011

Post By:Jake

Saturday April 23, 2011 roughly 100 racers assembled in Greenough, MT at the Paws up Resort to compete in the annual GrizzlyMan and Black Bear Challenge Adventure Race. This year’s race proved to be MUCH harder than any previous version. The race includes trail running, orienteering, mountain biking, and for the GrizzyMan, white water navigation. Racers are given a sheet of coordinates, a map, and a “passport” the night before the race. During the pre-race meeting organizers stressed the rules, shared the course safety info, and explained the open format of the race. Racers had the evening to plot their points on their maps, and plan their route. At 5:00 a.m. the GrizzlyMan racers started out in the pre-dawn light, and at 9:00 a.m. the Black Bear Racers headed out on their course.

This year I competed in the Black Bear Challenge with my cousin Adam, on team “Just Cuz”. We drove up together Friday afternoon, got registered, and staged our bikes at the bike “Transition Area”. We had very little clue what to expect. We were told there would be running and biking, but beyond that we had absolutely no idea what to expect. We’d never visited the area, we weren’t sure how much snow may or may not be on the course, and we were even less clear about how far we might be expected to travel. All we knew was that we’d be on our bikes for some of the race, and on foot for the rest. For accommodations Friday night, we rented a “boxcar” at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest headquarters. The boxcar had a couple single bunk beds, a couple small desks, and a pot belly wood stove. There was one shared outhouse that we could find, between 15 or 20 cabin/boxcars, but no running water as far as we could find, although the website mentions a “washhouse” with showers so I’m sure there was water somewhere?

The 7:00 p.m. pre-race meeting Friday night was mandatory, although as they handed out race passports it appeared a couple teams decided to cancel. As we got our passports, we quickly counted and noted the 16 sets of coordinates representing hidden checkpoints. The race directors stated that last year’s racers requested a more challenging format for 2011, so they responded by purchasing 60 checkpoints for the GrizzlyMan race, 16 of which were shared with the Black Bear racers as opposed to last year’s 13 GMan checkpoints and 9 Black Bear checkpoints. They also decided to spread the checkpoints out more, and place them in harder to find locations. Thanks guys! After the meeting, Adam and I raced back to the boxcar and started plotting points. We took our time and plotted with care as these points would ultimately determine our success or failure. Plotting the points took much longer than expected and we didn’t get to sleep till around 11:30. Sleep didn’t last long, and we were up by 7 a.m., getting our gear finalized and starting to stretch out. A shotgun blast started the race at 9:00, and a pod of about 50 people started jogging away from the Paws up Resort. As the course was completely open, almost instantly people started going their own way while other teams looked confused, not knowing if they should follow or stick to their path. We hit the first real landmark, a culvert that took us under Hwy 200, and we broke out our compasses to start shooting bearings. A quick 1/2 mile run/hike later and we were punching our first checkpoint. Another compass bearing and a 1/2 mile run/hike and we were quickly standing over our second checkpoint (or so we thought). The checkpoint we had been aiming for was C2, and the checkpoint we were standing over was marked C3. Confused, we checked our map again and again, and quickly circled the area searching for a second nearby checkpoint?

Knowing we had to be in the right place, we concluded the race officials must have accidentally confused C2 and C3 when they were setting the course. It ate up about 20 minutes of precious time, but we were on our way to checkpoint #3 which we quickly found. At that point we made a beeline dash to the bike transition area. Our goal was to get on the bikes and start hitting up the furthest checkpoints first and then start working our way back towards the beginning. Checkpoint #4 came and went quickly and we started navigating deep off trail towards checkpoint “T”.

Feeling confident with our early victories and navigational success, the confidence was shattered as we spent about an hour searching in vain for checkpoint “T”. Loads of thoughts started crossing our minds on what we could have done differently, or how we could have found the point any quicker, or with less effort. In the end, given our route of travel it was just a bit too challenging to find.
We gave up on “T” after deciding it was taking too long, we didn’t want to spend the rest of the day on that single point, but giving up on T meant the next 4 checkpoints would also most likely be lost as each one used the last for the start of a new bearing. We re-plotted a course that we thought we could get a few of those points back later in our route, and we were off again, back to our bikes that we had stashed just off a trail an hour earlier. At this point, Adam started complaining about a knee or tendon injury that was starting to flare up. He could hardly walk, much less bike so we decided to limp our bikes up the mountain to the next checkpoint. Checkpoint #5 was hidden well, just inside a shallow ravine, and by blind luck we stumbled upon it quickly. Back on the trail we decided to continue to one of the highest checkpoints “V”. Checkpoint V sat nearly at the top of a mountain at about 5,040 feet. The snow pack (which we later figured out) started at about 4,600 feet.
We decided to push our bikes to checkpoint V, and continue on towards another couple high checkpoints and then “ride” down the other side of the mountains. As we approached V, we realized the snowpack was close to 4 to 5 feet thick in most spots at that elevation, and after looking at the contour map of where we started getting into the solid snowpack, it quickly became apparent that several miles of snow travel would be required if we were to push on towards the remaining high checkpoints. It was getting late in the day, and we were becoming more and more demoralized so we decided to throw in the towel and retreat off the snowpack. At 3:00 we were finally back on solid ground, and we started riding back towards the finish line. A solid hour later we crossed the finish line with a total of 6 checkpoints punched. But we at least finished within the time limit. 5:00 came and went and teams continued trickling in, all receiving a DNF (did not finish).

Our attitudes began to improve a bit after talking with several other teams. It appears we were not the only team to struggle through this year’s course. While several teams didn’t finish in the allotted time, most teams that did finish were far from getting every checkpoint. The combination of a super heavy snow year, and a bigger course with more and harder to find checkpoints proved to be a pretty tough challenge for all. Once home, I plotted our approximate course and determined we covered at least 21 miles of terrain. 10.25 of the miles were on foot, 3 of which were on snow while pushing our bikes over and under fallen trees, and post holing through razor blade sharp icy snow. 10.75 miles were on our mountain bikes. We were out for approximately 7 hours, and only spent about an hour of that time slowly searching for a difficult checkpoint. Of the six points we did find, we found them quickly and without the assistance of seeing another team standing over the point. Overall, I’m proud of our performance. Despite Adam’s knee injury, he persevered till the end. Given the circumstances and the amount of time we had to prepare our map and our course, I don’t feel we could have been much better prepared for this race. We missed a key checkpoint, that would have un-locked a few more checkpoints, but otherwise I don’t feel we could have done much better. We learned a ton from this race, and going into the race next year, we’ll have a huge advantage by simply having competed in it this year. Check out the photos, and check out my other post on our Adventure Race equipment. If you have questions about this race, please let me know!


Adventure Race Gear

Post By:Jake

This year’s Grizzly Man and Black Bear Challenge race was brutal.  It thoroughly tested competitors mental and physical strength.  Racers, and their gear, was pushed to their breaking points.  While only a 1-day event, the event was described by many to be nearly the hardest endurance challenge of their lives.  With an entirely open race format, participants get to chose their own path, and their own adventure.  Racers can turn around and throw in the towel whenever they want; provided they can navigate their way back to some form of civilization.

Knowing this would be one of the hardest races of our lives, my partner and I put in a lot of effort researching the best of the best gear and equipment to use for this race.  Here’s what we ended up using and some of the gear’s highlights. Gear marked with a * was acquired at no cost for testing purposes.  

Footwear:  Without a doubt, our most important piece of equipment.  We specifically required trail runners that were made with Gore-Tex, as we expected the course to be wet, muddy, and snowy; which it was.  Additionally we wanted trail runners with great support as most of the course would be off trail.  All three of these shoes made the top of our list, and their performance was flawless.

LOWA S-Trail GTX 12 oz $135.00*

SCARPA Pursuit  GTX 13.8 oz $125*

Vasque Mindbender GTX 13.6 oz $130*

Gaiters: As we were told to expect a significant amount of snow on the course we knew we’d need gaiters to keep the mud and ice out.  I used the OR (Outdoor Research) Flex Tex gaiters $35*.  They provided a great tight fit, and performed exactly as expected.  I have a similar pair of these that are a few years old, and the new Flex Tex are a MUCH improved version.

Pants/Shorts and Map Case:  We chose to race in shorts as the weather was nice and sunny and about +45 degrees; however next year, regardless of the weather I’ll be running in pants!  Both of us had legs that looks like shredded beef by the end of the day.  Running off trail through thorn bushes and brambles, post holing through razor blade sharp icy snow, having a bike peddle continually grind into the back of my leg while pushing the bike through snow… Any one of those reasons would have been enough to convince me to wear pants next year!  Having said that,  the shorts we did use performed great.  I could hardly feel they were there, literally.  

I used a pair of GoLite Mesa Trail* shorts… They weighed hardly anything, but would better be used for an “on-trail” race.   Next year I’ll be wearing a pair of OR Equinox* pants.

Shirts:  I used a GoLite WildWood* shirt, which was incredibly light, breathable, and all around comfortable.  Perfect placement of seams, and all around well thought out design. Next year, I may wear a compression shirt under this shirt so it doesn’t ride up under my pack while I’m running.

Sunglasses:  Sunglasses were a MUST have for the race for 2 reasons. 1.) it was a SUPER bright sunny day, and 2.) biking fast down the mountain and being forced to stay close to your race partner, it seemed my glasses were catching lots of tiny twigs, pebbles, mud, bugs, ect…

I used a pair of Julbo Pipeline Glasses with  photochromic lenses.  The photochromic lenses are super nice as during times of low light, the lens tint will lighten up making it easier to see. So you’re eyes will be protected in any light condition.

Adam used a pair of Ryders Shot* glasses with photochromic lenses.  While the fit isn’t quite as nice as the Julbo’s the price is definitely more affordable.

Backpack:  This race has a lot of required gear for every single person so running in a pack is essential.  We were specifically looking for a pack that fit close to your back, was comfortable to run in, wasn’t too hot, and was sized appropriately to carry all the necessary gear.  I chose the GoLite Rush* pack, and I saw a couple other racers with the same pack.  The Rush pack has excellent features for adventure racing.  It’s comfortable to run in, has 2 excellent side pockets for water bottles, a hydration sleeve if that’s your thing, a nice bungee net to catch any extra layers, bike shoes, helmet, ect… and a couple very nice sized zip pockets on the waste belt. One of these pockets carried my camera through the race while the other carried all my food for the day.  Overall an excellent pack.  It’d be my first choice again in a heartbeat.

Adam used a Hydrapak Selva* pack with a 70oz. water reservoir.  The reservoir was excellent, and much easier to fill than my Camelback bladder.  Overall, good size and good, close fit.  

Required Gear:  The following gear was required for the race:  Compass, Headlamp, Water carrying capacity of at least 64 oz., Space blanket, Fire Starter, Matches in waterproof container, Whistle, Bike Helmet.

Compass:  We used a Brunton 15TDCL* and a Silva Ranger.  Both performed well, but the Brunton was slightly nicer and easier to use.

Water: I used a 100 oz. Camelbak bladder, but only had it 1/2 full, while I also carried 2-16oz squeeze water bottles, filled with Nuun electrolyte supplements.

Fire Starter: We carried a Gerber fire starte*r that came with a Bear Grylls survival knife, and a Kershaw fire starter*.  We actually used the Kershaw fire starter the night before the race to start a fire in our cabin’s pot belly stove.  It was a little tricky at first, but one good spark hit the paper and started the fire right up.  Good to know we could do it if we ever needed to.

Matches in a Waterproof Case:  Adam carried an Industrial Revolutions Stormproof Match Kit*. a little bulky, but handy if you need em.  I carried a tiny old kit I had laying around from my hunting pack.  I carried a Sea to Summit small Map Case*.  While the map case was very handy and very quick and convenient, it would have been nice to pass it off 1/2 way through the day as the constant swaying around my neck was quite annoying by the end of the day. Adam carried his map/passport in his pocket.

Bikes: I used a hard-tail Fetish Cycles mountain bike and Adam used a full suspension mountain bike that has the option of locking out the tail suspension.  Overall, most of the competitors looked to be riding similar setups, either hard-tails or full suspensions that could be locked out.  We did see one guy with a cyclocross bike, and I have no idea how he could manage the course with that thing.

Food:  The night before the race Adam and I cooked up some pasta with a GSI Pinnacle Dualist* cookset.  We used just about everything in the kit.  I was doubtful at first on the size of the pot.  At first glance it didn’t look big enough to cook enough pasta for two full grown men before race day, but alas, I was wrong, it was the perfect size.  Perhaps the coolest feature with the set was the strainer holes in the lid of the cook pot.  It’s about time a company used some common sense!  Those things worked perfectly!

For race day food, I ate 1-Pro-Bar for breakfast and carried 1-Odwalla bar, 1-Kashi granola bar, and 4-home made venison pepperoni sticks–high in protein and sodium.  I also carried Nuun electrolyte drink* and sipped it throughout the duration of the race.  By the end of the race I felt great, a little bit hungry, but not too bad considering of the food I brought, Adam ate 1/2 the pepperoni sticks and my Kashi bar.

RoadID:  Before the race, Adam and I picked up a couple RoadID’s* for our training and to use for all our adventures.  When we got our race packets we noticed the big RoadID logo on our race numbers!  We just wanted to give them a special shout out and thank them for their support in sponsoring this event, and hope their support will continue as we’re REALY looking forward to competing again!