I journeyed with my son James to Zadar to join Daria and Kathryn in the Peak Adventure Ninjas team for ARC. The final decision on the team came pretty late so not a lot of time to prepare but my body was ready. Last day at home included purchasing some needed gear and lights to last the distance. After arriving in Zadar, James and I rode into town to shop . On organizing our food it was soon apparent there was not enough and James needed a bigger pack. Plan was go back to town next day but Daria and Kathryn arrived ,to our rescue, at the apartment near race HQ in Petrcane. The organization required for such a race is daunting ,requiring the right gear right food in the right box ( bike or gear ).
We sort of have our roles planned , but there are going to be many highs and lows for all.
Race night rolls around and after delivering our gear to HQ we go into lockdown , all electronics , gps, internet banned and are given the maps , all 22 of them . I assist Kathryn marking up our course. ,James and Daria copy to the second set. Much to our delight the leg 3 trek goes up Mali Paklenica gorge and over Sveto Brdo ,a route the girls ,who arrived 2 weeks before us ,have already hiked down .
Soon all the teams board buses for the start in the old town at Nin. The atmosphere pre start is great ,we are interviewed by a news crew ,we seem to be popular with the media being from far away ,3 expedition race virgins and team member with roots in the local area.
Start time 8pm and we follow a motorcycle out of the old town for 4k run to the kayaks picking up the control cards at 2 checkpoints along the way. We have chosen to run in our life jackets with drink bladders with our packs in the gear boxes ready for leg 3. Arriving at the fat duo kayaks ,boys in one girls in the other . We know the bearing to follow round through the headlands to Paski Most. The kayaks are hard to steer but our experienced females kayakers are spinning circles behind us ; at this rate it is going to be a long 30km. We stop on the first headland and change crews with a boy in the back of each kayak and girl in front and are soon making proper headway. We arrive at Paski Most and Daria and James get out and collect the checkpoint and go to the bridge . Kathryn and I paddle the kayaks to under the bridge and coolect Daria and James as they abseil down off the bridge! We head on into the Velebit channel ,collect a checkpoit on an island then proceed onto the transition past the Starigrad.
We’re not last ,we’re in one piece ,we’ve made a 22 minute transition, we’re starting a 34 km trek at 2.30 am. The first part is a gentle climb on roads and out of the town and we are soon in the gorge hiking and at times scrambling up the rocks . The red and white track markers are relatively easy to see with our lights and James and I are mainly up front finding the route. We pick up a checkpoint in a cave and soon turn off the watercourse and are going through a wooded area. My light that was meant to last 24 hours expires just before dawn. At dawn we are treated to spectacular views of the Velebit. We continue our descent through the woods to the mountain hut checkpoint. Now the girls have been here before and Daria organises a Turkish style coffee for all . I try to deal with what feels like some impending blisters.
We start on a steep track behind the hut and come across a couple of donkeys with Bells round their necks. We keep ascending through the woods eventually to a checkpoint in another cave ( sort of ). We then have to ascend by rock scrambling up to an exposed rocky ridge . I take the front with girls following and James assisting from behind where necessary. We are then on an exposed ridge for a while and James is struggling a little in the 30 degree heat. After going over Sveto Brdo we descend through bush to another mountain hut. Till now our navigation has been pretty good even seeing us pass teams that seem to have made wrong/extra turns . On the last descent of the leg I am slowed to a virtual halt by the blisters ,having been reduced from trekking strongly into a blithering mess , and Daria is having trouble on the downhill also, but now being off track is not helping . Indecision and error costs us dearly and 4 teams go past us . We’re now going to start our ride in the dark.
The ride start is on fire road with steep slopes and loose stones . We don’t have good start. Daria crashes and I repair her lacerated finger . I crash because I couldn’t release a cleat and James fixes my cleats . Daria and I are really struggling on the downhills. My lack of night riding is telling . The air is getting cooler and the wind stronger. My riding is getting worse and worse it’s like I’ve forgotten how to ride a bike.. We get to checkpoint 10 where we’re meant to hike up Tulove Grede. I am sitting on the stone wall uttering insanities to my son . We decide on a rest though it’s not a great place . I think my problems are simply sleep deprivation . We put on all our mandatory gear bg efore we rest . When we return the Tulove Grede climb is closed due to the conditions. (James and I climbed it 2days after the race ,am glad we were stopped going up in those conditions ). I leave all my mandatory gear on and am able to ride. Clearly I was suffering from early hypothermia ,one can’t be one’s own doctor !! We continue our ride and at a mountain hut that is hard to find we end up meeting 3 other teams at least one coming from behind – didn’t realize there was anyone behind! We are forced into resting again by the boys failing lights (stupid we should have rested and recharged ouselves at the hut .. doh) The ride continues over rugged terrain until we reach the plains where there are farms with sheep and goats and we meet yet another hazard – the Croatian sheepdog. Eventually we are met by Igor at a newly created transition . We are ‘short coursed’ and instead of leg 7,8 we do our own MTB leg to the TA at start of leg 9. I am clearly having no issues with endurance as we ride the hilly route to Krupa.
The next leg treks along the Krupa river and is initially flat but with rocky rises. I am slow due to blisters again and I am forced to swallow my pride as team members demand to take some of the weight from my pack . We get to a check point on an island in the river then need to cross it . On the other side we realise we need to go up . It seems to be a near vertical climb up to the Krupa ridge. From there it is a walk down to the river kayak section start. A decision is made for a powernap once our gear is organised. I am woken from my dreams and we then have strong shots of coffee that the girls have acquired .
The kayaks are duo inflatable types suitable for the rapids in the Zrmanja. We are doing this at night with a clear sky and near full moon. The river flow is gentle in between the rapids which are often short drops . We continue till the waterfall section where there is people to help us. All gear is removed from the kayak and it is dropped over the falls . One kayak drops over the second drop and James collects it . The other sits in an eddy I retrieve it and paddle it down then realise I am going over a 3-4 m drop which the kayak handles with ease. We load up and get uner way ,looking for a branch of river coming in where we have to do a short trek. We spot a fire and someone on the bank . He informs us we have already passed that point and he is there to give us instructions on how to handle the next 3 rapids and the upcoming waterfall. After going down some rapids we again drop an emptied kayak over a fall . A little while after this we are at the transition . This was certainly the most fun leg during the race.
Being short coursed we are given a slightly different route for the mtb to the next transition.
From there we have a simple 4km trek circuit ! It starts up an old dried watercourse. The ground is hard and uneven . I find it tough with my blisters and Daria is finding it tougher . After finding one checkpoint the next one is in a cave. We climb up an old waterfall . We can’t find the route. We scale up a steep screed slope and can’t find the way forward and going out the way we came is too dangerous. We find a sheltered spot to rest till first light .
At first light we find the path to the cave . The first part is high and open and there are bats everywhere . We walk to the end of the cave stooped over and there is small opening at the end which we have to scramble into to get the checkpoint which requires a photo of all of us. After leaving the cave the way out of the canyon is somewhat easier to find in the daylight.
The final MTB leg is through the surrounding villages and farms . The roads are rough and rocky but not steep like the rest of the time .Navigation is tricky as we are banned from using main roads till after the last checkpoint. Two punctures impede our progress ,the second one a little more significantly. Just before the descent into Zadar I again have a problem with getting out of a cleat but manage to get the handlebar to the ground ahead of my body. The cleat has been knocked way out of position despite the earlier adjustment and James fixes itagain. .
After the transition in Zadar it is a short old city rogaine which ends at the sea organ.
From there we collect the kayaks and it is a simple downind paddle 11km to the finish on the beach at Petrcane . We cross the line together . We are interviewed again by the TV crew.
We finished a tough race together and had some fun along the way . We did a shorter course but still 60 km of trekking in rough mountainous terain ,150 km mtb and 50km kayaking all crammed into 71 hours .
Lessons for me ,get your feet and shoes right !! Have good lights and backups.
Do some night riding including on rought technical terrain .
Thanks Adventure Race Croatia and thanks PA Ninjas.