Melida Barbee’s Adventure Race in Costa Rica

This is a guest blog written by our good friend Melida Barbee.  She and her family have stayed in all the Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges and she has won four of our annual Lapathon Events in the Osa Peninsula. Last December she and her team participated in the Adventure Race World Champtionship here in Costa Rica.  This blog is longer than normal, but it actually reads like a mini novel.  Check it out…

Meli Barbee of Toyota Racing Team

Team Toyota”™s Adventure Racing Championship

With the name Toyota on our backs and as the lead sponsor of the event, the pressure and heat of an extremely positive race result in the Adventure Racing World Championship 2013 in Costa Rica was inescapable.   The media haunted us for days prior, always asking the same questions.   What can we expect from the team?   What will be the biggest challenge?   Our best response was that we “hoped” to be in the top 15 teams and first Costa Rican team.   But deep down, we knew that in these kinds of races there are too many variables that come in to play, not to mention that we would be competing against the best teams from all over the world with a lot more experience than ours.

At the beginning of 2013, our third sponsored year with Toyota, internal changes were made and it became uncertain as to whether or not our event schedule and budget for the year would be approved.  We knew the inscription fee for Team Toyota in the World Championship had been paid.   So the team was in but could we count on the rest of the costs?   Two teammates became frustrated, and quit the team.  That left Eric, myself, Gerhard and Silvia. Eric and I had been racing together for three years. Silvia joined the team mid 2012 when we decided it was important to have a second female.  Gerhard was the sixth member we recruited at the end of 2012.   He had never done an adventure race, but had ample experience in different single event endurance races and was a seasoned adventurer.   When the two male team mates quit in January (and later joined Team Hyundai), we were down to us four.   We began to discuss another male option but decided to wait until out sponsorship was defined.

By mid-march we were all training hard. Then Silvia got hit by a car while out cycling, and other teams were scrambling for members, so we were desperate to get someone else on the team. Fortunately, we got Chino to commit just when Toyota approved our budget. He had ample racing experience and is an experienced river and mountain bike guide. The race to the starting line began and we were able to squeeze in under our belt our one and only event as a team before the world championship, the Brazilian Ecomotion Adventure Race (an event of the World Series).   We finished 19th out of about 45 teams.

We had been told that very few national teams were expected to finish the entire race course due to its difficulty and the challenging navigation.   So our goal was to finish the entire race course, one step at a time, and smartly.     Our strategy for the race would be to stay consistent and constantly moving forward; to take care of ourselves, to beat the race cut offs, if any, and make it before any potential dark zones.   Once we were en route and we knew our odds, we could begin to push harder for a top finish.

The event officially started on the 29th of November, when all teams including ourselves, checked in to the Radisson Hotel in San Jose.   Over the course of the next two days we were introduced to the race course, rules and details such as the route, transition areas, check points, dark zones and cut offs.   We would receive the first set of maps at the first transition area, Km 2 after a running sprint at the starting line.   We would get the rest of the maps at two other transition areas during the course. With all this info we were able to pack all the necessary essentials into the different gear and bike boxes.

The Toyota Adventure Racing Team

Four AM Monday, December 2nd, we started with an eight hour bus ride to the race starting line in Sabalito, a small indigenous community located due northeast of Ciudad Neily, on the border with Panama. The race started at 2pm. We sprinted the 2 K to our pre-packed, disassembled bikes.   Fortunately, as most experienced teams had done, we custom made bike boxes that did not exceed race measurement standards, but in which we could easily fit our bikes with minimal dissembling and assembling needed during the race course.   Note that when we transition to or from a mountain bike segment we have to assemble or disassemble our bike and repackage or unpack it from the bike box in order for the race staff to be able to lift it on to a cargo truck and transfer all the boxes to the next transition area where we would either assemble or disassemble the bikes again depending on the activity we came from and were going in to.  As we assembled the bikes, Eric, the navigator, had about 10 minutes to organize the maps and analyze the route.

The first mountain bike leg was 95 km total, if you didn’t get lost.   I kid you not, the route was harder than the first day of the Ruta de los Conquistadores.   We were about at kilometer 50 when night fell and we headed into horrific single track section with about 20 other teams.   As the trail narrowed, the route got muddier and overall uglier.   The trail was slick with mud, steep up and down, and all about carrying your bike for about 10 km.   When the single track ended we found ourselves hiking our bikes down thick, grassy slopes into a ravine and then up through thick, virgin brush almost impenetrable without using your two hands and feet… and we had to get out bikes through this!   It was not fun, and I am sure it destroyed several teams from the start. I was proud of myself when I witnessed other females getting their bikes carried for them and I was doing it all on my own.

The first mountain bike section concluded with a long flat section through palm oil plantations to the Conte River.   We arrived at this transition area at about 2am. We repacked our bikes, grabbed a bite to eat, changed, inflated the rubber kayaks, and headed off…in the wrong direction.   Eric had gotten a little turned around for a moment and the incoming tide was actually pushing us upstream, so no one questioned anything.   It was also very dark and a bit foggy so it was a bit challenging to tell which direction the river headed, but finally, being team captain, I questioned Eric about our direction of travel and after a brief moment of analysis, we realized we had to head the other direction.

Paddling is our forte, and we passed several teams on this beautiful 65 km paddle down the river, in to Golfito and up the Golfo Dulce. When we got to the transition area we were in 12th position, but it had cost us.   Whether it was exhaustion, dehydration, something he ate, or maybe even a dengue relapse we don’t know, but Chino fell sick (he had dengue back in September).   Although we loaded him up with good food and liquids at the transition, as we began the 27 km trek from Rincon de Osa to Drake, he gradually began to get worse, vomiting anything he tried to take down.   Each time we stopped to give him time to rest and sleep, I anguished as the mosquitoes devoured me and teams gradually slipped past us, three of them being Costa Rican. The trek took us twice says long as expected, and by daybreak we arrived at the transition.   Chino curled up on the dirt to sleep while the guys prepped the gear and I spoke to the one available race monitor about any medical help we could get him.   The next section included a 10 km portage of our boats to a small creek that fed into the massive Sierpe/Terraba where we would kayak about 55 km through the mangrove system.   This was a very remote area, with virtually no civilization and not a good place to be stranded with a sick person.   But after talking to the race monitor, the only option was to either quit or keep going.     The answer was obvious.   Eric and Gerhard valiantly charged ahead pulling the two boats, each one loaded on to a small kayak dolly we had brought specifically for this segment of the race.  I found myself running ahead to help push and pull the boats for a bit, then hung back to walk along with Chino and encourage his forward motion.     We came upon a very humble, dirt floor shack, and I decided to pop my head in and ask if the homeowners had any soup.   In about ten minutes, the woman has concocted a pot of Maggi’s tomato soup.   Chino was about to sit down and eat it when I told him we had to get it “para llevar”.   The only to go item the woman had was a massive old jar she was using as a plant pot; so off we went down the trail with Chino nursing his hot massive jar of soup.

We gradually came across various teams that had passed us during the night, many of which had not come prepared for the portage. Some teams were carrying their boats un-inflated and folded on their backs, about 50 pounds or more each.   Some had tied them to logs and carried them with the logs hanging over their shoulders. I was grateful for our strategy, but felt bad that Gerhard and Eric were doing all the work as I brought Chino along.   He was gradually recovering as the day warmed up so we quickened our pace to catch up to the guys, when all of a sudden we came across an Argentine team towing one of our boats with theirs sprawled on top, un-inflated!  Very cunningly, Eric apparently had managed to convince them that they could take advantage of our system but they would have to do the towing, while he would go ahead to find the route!   When we finally managed to find the creek where our paddle would begin, with the help of a random local woman that appeared out of now where,  as often happens, about four other disoriented and struggling teams showed up, all of which had passed us during the course of the night before.

Finding the creek where our paddling would begin was a precursor of the challenging orienteering we were heading in to.   However, the paddle through this mangrove maze would take us about 15 hours, which, believe it or not, was hours and even days less than many other teams.   In the end, it was very fortunate that Chino got sick, because the tide schedule could not have been more favorable for our traverse. You did not want to be in the thick of the mangroves at dead low tide for you were bound to get stuck in the thick mangrove muck and have to wait at least two to four hours for the tide to come back in in order to move again. The tide was just finishing dropping when we began our paddle; by the time we were in the heart of it all the tide would be starting to come back in.   With Chino recovered, we were able to take advantage of our strength and pass several more teams to regain a bit of our original positioning.   We came into the next transition in Sierpe at about 2 AM, in about 20 some odd position with only one Costa Rican team ahead of us, Aerodiva.

At about 4:30 am we headed off on our mountain bikes.   We decided to stop for our first and few full meals of pinto, fried eggs and coffee. From here we would have to climb “La Cuesta del Burro”, the “Ass’s Incline”.   And that it was!   Most of it we did on foot, walking our bikes.   At the top, three other teams were waiting in line to do the Superman zipline cable when Román Urbina of the Costa Rican, la Ruta-Land Rover Team, hit a branch and fractured his foot, and the activity got closed down for an hour.   We were informed that we could wait for an hour while the situation was dealt with, or continue on with a 2 hour time penalty. Instead of waiting for teams to catch up, we chose to continue on.

We rode through the day, afternoon and then night along some incredible backcountry, dirt roads, arriving at the transition area and obligatory 4 hour stop in San Gerardo de Rivas at about 2 or 3 am. After three hours of sleep, we packed our bikes again, reloaded food, ate some breakfast, checked out the new set of maps and began the 92 km trek up Chirripo, Costa Rican highest peak (3800 mts / 12500 ft), and down the opposite side to another peak called Cerro Uran, and on over the remote jungles of the  Talamanca Range to the Caribbean slopes on an old high mountain indian route called the ” Paso de los Indios”, to the village of Sitio Gilda, and finishing in Paso Marco near Bajo Pacuare. The navigation for this segment was pretty technical but Eric visits the area frequently and had spoken to all his local contacts about the route and was very confident.   As we made our way up the public access route to the top of Chirripo, I began to feel awkwardly groggy and nauseous on the way up, so I latched on to Chino’s backpack and let him lead the way.

Once up top, we stopped for a quick snack at the shelter. At this point, Team Banano caught up with us a bit concerned about their navigation along this segment, so Eric offered to go along together.   It was fun to go along with them.   None of us really knew the two tico’s on the team, Lester and Lalo, and the Chilean female and Argentine navigator were fun to chat with as we trekked along. We got to the very top of Chirripo right after sunset, took pictures and began to make our way along the rocky ridge line to the north/northwest with a cold, howling wind at our face the entire way.   It was treacherous climbing and clambering, but I was grateful for all my great gear that was keeping me nice and warm.   Way in the distance you could see headlamps of other teams searching for the correct route, and others deep in the valley below to our right…lost.   At about 3 am we made it to the Uran shelter, where we had a bowl of soup, slept about an hour and headed out just after sunrise once again with Team Banano.

We spent the entire day trekking through the thick high mountain jungle and boggy terrain, fortunately with good weather.   Upon reaching the Chirripo River, we took a refreshing dip and continued on to Sitio Gilda, which we reached in the late afternoon. From here we had to take another treacherous route at night that lead us literally straight up and then down into the upper segment of the Pacuare River valley. As we started dropping, my knees were beginning to feel tired and swollen, and I was beginning to feel a sting in my feet comparable to needles being poked into them, the initial symptoms of foot rot.

At this point, Team Banano caught a second wind, and disappeared ahead of us much to my teammates”™ dismay.  The next section was a short mountain bike section, and I knew they were stronger cyclists than us but we still had a long paddle ahead and I knew we would easily overtake them there.   The guys started to push hard, and it wasn’t until I overheard Eric make a comment about how he was worried we wouldn’t make the cut off, that I began to question what was going on.   I looked at my watch and it was about 3 am on December 8th.   I thought to myself, of course we will make it!     We only have a 40 k bike ride to do after this, what is all the fuss?   I realized then that the guys were convinced that the cut off day was December 8th, but I was pretty certain they were mistaken and that it was December 9th.   I stayed quiet though, doubting myself in my dreamy, sleep deprived state.     I must have looked at my watch a million times and gone over my recollections of the race instructions at the prerace briefings at least a dozen times.   Then I remembered I had written the cutoff date and hour on the small race sheet I always make myself with the distances, activities and transitions on it.   I pulled it out, and sure enough I had written   “cut off 2 pm Dic 9”, and I remembered clearly writing the hour 1 hour earlier than the official hour just to be sure we would make it.   Before disrupting Eric”™s concentration, I pointed it out to Gerhard and had him check the date and hour in his photocopy of the race book.   About 10 minutes later, the guys all exclaimed their sense of relief when Gerhard pointed out the mistaken date. However, we had to make it to the dark zone on the Pacuare (you obviously can”™t raft the Pacuare at night therefore it is declared a dark zone and you must stop and wait till the next day to begin the rafting while the clock does not stop and other teams have the chance of catching up to you) before 4 pm.   We would have to make a hard push on the 40 k mountain bike to be certain to make it.   It was highly possible that there was a surprise challenge, hike a bike or grueling section of some sort in those 40 k.

When we finished the trekking segment, in Paso San Marco, it was about 6 am after two full days of hiking.   My feet were pretty messed up, and fortunately we were required to stop for one hour and receive a medical check.   The medics cleaned up my feet and poured iodine on them to dry them out; hurt like heck, but did the job.   When my feet were dry I found the guys dozing and decided they should sleep a few more minutes before rallying.   Minutes later, we all sort of rose at the same time and off we continued trekking 2 more k to the plaza in Bajo Pacuare where we would transition to our bikes.   We strategized and decided it would be best to travel light, fast and consistent.   Being that I was the slowest biker and had feet issues, Chino and I loaded our mandatory gear in Eric and Gerhard’s backpacks and continued on with only water bottles and light food in our jersey pockets.   To keep a consistent pace, each time we reached a climb, Chino would pass me the end of the tow line he made out of a retractable dog leash zip tied to his seat post.   I would hook the loop onto a makeshift hook we zip tied to the post of my handle bar and off we would go.   Chino was in full form considering how worried I was about him four days prior!

We cycled hard and fast; helping each other out when we came to an unrideable climb. The route was never ending and the clock kept ticking.   At about 2:15 we were at the transition area, stripping down our gear, disarming the bikes to pack them up and quickly grabbing the basics for the rafting segment, which wasn’t much as we would transition to the duckies again just below Siquirres. Suddenly, the transition monitor came over and told us we could not continue. What!!??? How can that be?! I remembered at the captain’s meeting before the race, hearing that no one could continue the hike down to the river after 3 pm but that was on the cut off day! Our timing was fine.   We still had a chance.   But she was firm about her call and would not let us go on.   This was when we noticed the bystanders and spectators, many of them teammates or partners of other Costa Rican teams that were either behind us or that had dropped out of the race for one reason or another.   Most, if not all of them, started telling us that we could not continue, one of them being Team Banano’s captain’s wife and the other, one of our old team mates who joined Team Hyundai which dropped out   of the race before the third transition!   We could not believe it!

I spotted Craig, the Aussie owner of the World Series, who had come to Costa Rica to follow the event and whom I had fortunately met racing the World Championship Tasmania, and went over and asked him what he thought about all this.   There had been way too many prerace meetings and discussions, and the final race rules and policies were rather unclear.   Craig felt we should go on, but yet Antonio, one of the race organizers and ironically someone I had raced with before, by phone, told the monitor we could not.   At this point she had unfortunately collected our passport (the official sheet we stamp with a hole puncher at each check point) and would not give it back.   Eric and Gerhard were fuming!   I wasn’t sure what to think about it all.   Then Craig came over and asked us if we were ready.   He felt we should head down to the river put-in while he tried to find out what the real deal was.   Once at the put in, we would be informed if we could go on.   If not, we would have to come back up to the transition area for the night.   The transition monitor was very annoyed with the intervention obviously, and when she handed back the passport she told us that we had to be at the river by 3:30, if not we certainly were not going to be allowed to go no matter what.

It is amazing what your body will do if you are under serious despair. My feet were hurting pretty badly, but we sprinted to the river put -n so fast.   We completed it in 19 minutes and ended up being the fastest team to complete this segment. Believe it or not some teams later complained that we must have cheated and gotten a ride!   Once at the put in, we were stoked to find out that the man in charge was Tori, an old friend and head guide for Rios Tropicales, the rafting company that Chino works for and that was supplying the river gear for this segment.   He told us not to worry, that we were on the river and set to go. Originally Chino was going to guide the boat, but in the end Tori decide that we should be guided down the river as all other teams had been in case Chino felt too tired.   So, Tori told us to take a small rest while he sealed the dark zone then jumped in our boat and guided us downstream.   We passed two teams before reaching the take out.

About an hour after the sun set (Day 6), we arrived at the transition area below Siquirres. I was pleasantly surprised to find my father there to cheer us on.   My feet were feeling utterly painful and I knew that what they really needed was to dry out, especially to finish this race. We were all showing signs of weariness.   In the last 3 days we had slept about 3 hours, and the hard push to beat the dark zone was taking a toll on us.   We received the final set of maps, so Eric started to go over them as Gerhard and I got our feet tended from the local medics and Chino started prepping gear.   With a sock in my mouth to bear the agony, the medics rubbed my feet down with iodine to dry them out.   As I lay there waiting for them to dry, I passed out. When I woke, the guys had the boats prepped to go.   But all our gear was spread out all over the place and the guys were passed out. I gradually started to gather my things and little by little we roused each other and got moving. At about 1 AM we headed out, paddling in our sleep as we floated down the Pacuare towards the canals of Tortuguero.

Just after sunrise we reached the turn into the man-made canal at Frehaul that takes you on to Parismina, then paddled up a section of meandering canals where we passed the Ecuadorian team and Japanese team, and on to the endless waterways that lead to Tortuguero.   Sleep began to creep in on us again.   I would begin random conversations with Eric based on things I was dreaming about.   Crazy as it sounds, Eric would follow along with the conversation in his own dazed state until I came back to reality and pointed out to him that I was dreaming!  Eric and I always paddle together in the same boat and he always sits in the back of the tandem; therefore, it is always hard to tell when he is sleeping.   But as soon as the paddling gets just a bit harder, I know, and I try so hard to paddle on my own for a ways without pushing too hard and waking him up for I know his mind must be exhausted from all the orienteering he has done.

As the day progressed on the endless canals, the Japanese caught up to us again and passed us, and just as they did Eric took a sweeping stroke to slide us right in behind them to draft on their wake.   I was surprised with this move and didn’t feel it was quite appropriate.   I mentioned to him, “if they were doing this to you, what would your reaction be?”   So after about half hour of battling it out to stay on their trail, Eric decided to cut a deal with them.   The long stretches were going to take a toll on all of us, but if we worked together we may get through it faster and more easily.   They decided it was a good idea so we spent about three hours taking turns leading the four duckies down the endless stretches of water lined with thick forests on either side.   By sunset (Day 7), we were just getting close to Tortuguero but still had a 20 k trek, 156 km bike ride, canopy tour and rafting on the Sarapiqui river to go before getting to the finish line.

Upon reaching Tortuguero we parted from the Japanese and decided to make a stop in town to buy some food, headlamp batteries, and a couple other odds and ends.   As always, the town was pumping with music and people.   We pulled our boats up to the taxi landing and the guys went off to buy things, so I stayed behind to keep an eye on the gear.   They came back with some delicious sandwiches, cokes, and chips; perfectly enough to satisfy the appetite. We continued on to the next check point, one of the regional hotels; fortunately Gerhard knew exactly where it was because from the water they all looked the same at night!   This would be the last check point before heading in to a narrower waterway that would take us to what we predicted would be a miserable transition area before beginning the 20 km swampy trek out of Tortuguero.

Once at the hotel check point, we learned that Team Seagate, had dropped out of the race here due to the foot rot that had destroyed one of the teammate”™s feet.   I realized that after a full day of rowing with my shoes off and feet out in the sunlight, they had dried up well and were feeling much better, but I was worried about the surprises that may lie ahead.   The trek out of Caño Harold was certain to be a swampy, muddy mess.   But, I came prepared! I had been reminded about a very effective technique we used for a similar trek in the world championship in Tasmania. I would put on a clean fresh pair of socks and then cover them with plastic bags and then put on my shoes.  So before we left the lodge, we took full advantage of the dock light and unloaded all our gear from our boats, organized it and packed it all up so that our next transition would be quick and smooth. As we did so, the hotel owners came out to cheer us on and told that there were about three or four teams sleeping in the lodge.   That caught us by surprise.   If we pressed on, we would improve our overall ranking.   After Eric loaded two bags of pasta alfredo from the hotel’s buffet line, we jumped in the boat and paddled off.

As glided down the ominous and narrowing waterway, with Team Japan on our tails, when suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, we came upon a large, abandoned dugout boat, and realized that this was the end of the channel. We weren’t sure if this was actually the place we were supposed to be. As Chino very efficiently and with great poise and balance, stepped from his duckie to ours and on to a tree root to climb the back without getting wet and check out the spot, one of the Japanese clamored into the water and up the bank almost pushing Chino out of the way.   This was the spot, and just as we began to unload on this tiny bank, surrounded by mud and water, about 4 other teams showed up and the frenzy began.

A British Team, another Kiwi team, the Japanese and one or two other teams, along with ours scrambled to unload the gear and find a suitable place to put things down and then pull the duckies ashore, deflate them and roll them up to be left at the spot.   From one instant to the next, we went from a surreal calmness, to craziness and mayhem in the deep, dark jungle.   Due to the lack of space, gear was piled on more gear, people were stepping and hauling duckies over people, and everyone was hollering to each other about what to do.   We could sense the stiff rivalry amongst the teams that arrived, and they just careened over and past us as they raced to get ahead of each other and us.   As much as we had prepped for the transition, the teams left us behind as quickly as they had appeared.   We weren’t too concerned though, for we still had more than 150 km to go and so much could still happen.   We knew we had to keep a good and constant pace as we charged in to day 8. It was especially important to take extra good care of ourselves heading into the last trek and final mountain bike for the exhaustion and lack of sleep were taking an even stronger toll.

We headed out of the area, trampling through what could have been a deep, nightmarish swamp if it had rained hard and long.   Fortunately though, the good weather continued and the mud only reached our ankles as opposed to our calves.   My plastic bag socks were a saving grace.   The 20 k seemed interminable, and the soles of my feet stung like crazy, but were not unbearable.   When we got to the interminable dirt road, we all sort of meandered along in a sleep walk until Gerhard suggested we trot.   We would move faster, and the pain would be more bearable.   I doubted him at first, but in the end he was so right!   As I began to plod along, I gradually shifted into “the zone” and became immune to pain thanks to my dreamy state.

We reached the transition at La Pavona in the early dawn.   I could see the boys were exhausted.   A I gathered myself for a visit with the medic to get my feet prepped for the bike ride, I noticed the guys laying down for a rest.   When I got back they were still resting so I took advantage of the time to get my things together and begin to heat up water for some hot meals.   Gradually they woke and we started to motivate.   It was about 9 am when we left and the temperature was rising rapidly.   I was grateful that we had gotten the last trek in at night; doing it in the daytime would have been horribly hot.   As we headed off back down the main road we had trekked in on, we passed several of the teams coming up behind us on the trek.   Many were suffering from the sweltering heat.

This final bike leg was relatively flat, with some hills but pretty much rideable the entire day.   In the first 20 k we caught up with the Ecuadorian team, and decided to continue on together.   This was   a good decision, as both navigators were tired and thus could work together on the orienteering.   It also helped the teammates stay awake as we striked up new conversations with the new and lively mates.   It was an honor to be riding with these guys, who so often place in the top 5 in the South American races.

The route headed north towards the border, getting closer and closer to the confluence of the Sarapiqui and San Juan Rivers. We road along dirt roads, over log bridges and tracks and through numerous fields.  On various occasions we arrived at a questionable intersection when randomly a motorcycle would appear just in time to ask which way to go.   When we got to the river confluence, a small boat hired by the race organization, transported us across the Sarapiqui.   From here we followed a trail from the police post to the nearest dirt road.   We began our long route south towards Sarapiqui turning right and left to find the various checkpoints along the way.   Gradually, my teammates and I began to recognize small things that we had seen on training rides in the area and realized we must be close.   Their was a spring in our pedaling, as we began to sense a finish to the race.   But as darkness crept in, so did the tiredness, and we slowly felt the route becoming interminable.   At about 8 PM a Toyota pickup truck roared in behind us and three women started cheering us on.   It was Gerhard’s wife, Paula, our team rep for Toyota, and Anna, Toyota’s head of communications for the race.   When we came upon the next intersection they stopped, jumped out of the car, gave us all big hugs and snapped a couple of photos of the two teams.   When we headed off again, we asked them about the way and, believe it or not, they pointed us in the wrong direction!

On we went, both teams, about 12 km downhill.   We came into a town and saw a sign for the town we were looking for, pointing in the direction we had just come! When we asked someone about it, he confirmed that the place we were headed was definitely all the way back up the road, and to the right, onto the road that girls in the pickup truck had taken to return to Sarapiqui.   So back we went after a detour of about 24 kilometers.  When we were finally back on track, I slipped into another dreamy state and was completely unaware when we started going in circles looking for another check point.   I realized that we seemed to be going back and forth along a road, and more and more teams were appearing in the area.  Everyone was struggling to find the check point.   One of the Ecuadorian guys took off to look for a potential location and disappeared.   Eric realized that we had to find a school and take a turn at that point so we went back about one kilometer.   All the teams that had been around, had once again disappeared when we found the place to turn.   As if we were in a dream, a man on a horse suddenly appeared out of the forest we were headed into at this ungodly hour of the night.  Like so many other guardian angels that had appeared to us on the course, he knew exactly where we were headed, so he lead there and to the route beyond that would lead us to Sarapiqui.

At this point, we knew that we had a chance of a finishing in a strong position so we couldn’t risk any teams passing us from here on out.   We quickly turned off all our headlamps and quietly followed the horseman.   Strangely, he took us straight to it and just then the lost Ecuadorian appeared; he had been searching the same area but could not find it.   Not a minute after leaving the checkpoint, a Czech team appeared around the bend.   We marched on trying to look lost in this field of ferns and weeds, towing our bikes along, and they asked if we had found the check, but at this level of the competition, no one dared to answer. They ended up following us for quite a ways and as soon as we hit a dirt road and were able to ride our bikes again, they realized that they were being led away from where the check must be and turned back.

We rolled in to the La Linda farm in Sarapiqui at about 3 am on day 9 with the Ecuadorian team.   We were first on the canopy tour. At this point, when you know you are so close to the finish line but yet you have to complete two legs of incomprehensibly, unnecessary activities (they were obviously included so that the media could take advantage of the photo opportunities despite the lack of challenge they represented to us), you slowly slip into a state of exhaustion and disbelief, and thank God that at there are canopy guides and river guides to lead you on. We were curious about the rafting in the dark, and surprised to find out that it would not have a dark zone.   Turns out the water level drops so low at night due to the dam up river, that the majority of the rapids disappear anyways! When we got to the river, we were greeted by a young dynamic guide whose name I forgot in the first five minutes of the segment. He was amazing!   Our boat must have gotten stuck at least a dozen times, but we never had to get out of the boat, for the guide would jump out and heave and haul the raft until it finally broke loose from the dry bed. He encouraged us to paddle hard and keep it constant to get well ahead of the Ecuadorians.   Within the first five minutes, Gerhard had to settle into the middle of the boat and pass out.   Sleep made him completely useless. So Eric, Chino and I paddled with the guide, trying to light his way with our headlamps.   As we went along though, each one of us would slowly doze off and then be startled awake as we slowly started hunching forwards or backwards almost falling out of the boat. I got a good couple of laughs in as I watched the guys startle themselves from falling, and found that the scenario was waking me up, along with the rising sun.

At about 6:30 AM, we finished the rafting walked across the finish line in the plaza in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.   We were all overtaken by such an incredible sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and so happy to be received by friends and family at the finish line.     In summary, we finished the 815 + km in 209 hours (8 days and 6.5 hours), 11th position out of 67 teams, and second Costa Rican team.  We averaged between 9-12 hours of sleep during the entire race.   Today, as my I fly home from my Christmas holidays with my family in New Zealand, the place where adventure racing began, I finally feel like I have awoken from an incredible dream full of adventure, heroes, traitors, demons, monsters, fairylands, and all those crazy Lord of the Ring type places and people that appeared in reality and hallucinations.   For the first time, I have been able to complete a historical race on home turf, as team captain, sponsored by a brand name I relate to and always felt should get involved in these events.   I read the article written by Nathan Faave, the notably experienced captain of Kiwi Team Seagate, in which he describes their race and explains their results, and I was so impressed by his sportsmanship.   He clearly accepts that their race results were a clear result of their decisions and actions as a team, nothing else.   And that is what adventure racing is all about.   It is not about the individual, the organization, the course, or the sponsors.   It is about the team and how the mates come together to make it to the finish line, together, and better yet as comrades filled with confidence and pride.   We had a great race, pushed out limits, worked superbly as a team, and pushed on in hopes of meeting and surpassing Toyota’s expectations.   Not sure what the future will bring as the new year begins to unfold, but for now I will recover from a year of epic events and journeys and continue my adventures under the Costa Rican sun.

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