Strong paddling secures eighth place
While winter hit in Crested Butte Team Salomon/Crested Butte was battling a stout field of international adventure racers in the desert heat at the second annual Abu Dhabi Adventure Race.
With team captain Bryan Wickenhauser off the team to pursue his passion for Randonnee ski racing, the team of Jon Brown, Eric Sullivan and Jari Kirkland.
The search took them to New Zealand, where they picked up Nathan Peterson as a temporary fill-in.
The reason Kiwis are notoriously strong paddlers in the adventure racing circuit.
Last year at Abu Dhabi, the team got pummeled by the competition in the water, so they looked to Peterson to add some strength to their paddling sections.
It worked out, as they had some of their strongest sections on the water to help pace them to eighth place overall.
The event opened with a furious prologue triathlon involving biking, sea kayaking and running.
The top ten teams, including Team Salomon/Crested Butte, all finished within four minutes of each other.
Teams were then treated to classic tent camping, desert style, complete with Persian rugs, pillows and gentlemen serving coffee to the racers as they rested that night for the next day.
“It was pretty plush,” admits Brown.
The next day involved 60 kilometers of biking and 40 kilometers of sea kayaking and Team Salomon/Crested Butte felt it would be an opportunity for them to shine as they often do on their bikes.
Biking on a private island on pavement, dirt roads and deep sand, they moved seemingly well through the day transitioning to their sea kayaks and ending up on a sandy atoll for a night of self-supported camping.
Unfortunately, they realized they actually dropped out of the top ten into 12th place on a day where they should have picked up a few spots.
“We got smoked,” says Brown. “We were all stunned and didn’t know what happened.”
Day three had teams paddling for eight hours straight covering a total of 85 kilometers. Again, paddling has never been Team Salomon/Crested Butte’s strongest discipline, until that day, when they turned the corner, putting in one of the best efforts on water to date to move into eighth place.
“Last year we got smoked on the paddle,” explains Brown. “This year we were fourth out of the water up with the Kiwi teams. We were pretty psyched with that.”
The next two days took teams from the water and into the desert for 110 kilometers of desert trekking complete with checkpoints and time constraints.
Teams were required to amass a total of six hours of down time before they left the next to last checkpoint over the 24-hour period.
At first, Team Salomon/Crested Butte’s strategy was to push through until the last possible moment and then take the six hours in one stop near the end to recuperate.
It turned out, most of their competition decided to space their brakes out over the course of the section and Team Salomon/Crested Butte realized they needed to adjust.
“It was so freaking hot, Africa hot,” says Brown. “We realized by taking breaks along the way, you could go much faster.”
The adjustment worked as they managed to hold their position through the grueling sandy trek while building an additional two-hour gap on the teams behind them.
With one day left to go, Team Salomon/Crested Butte realized that eighth place was their destiny and they took the final day of biking, climbing, rappelling and trekking to have fun holding eighth place and winning $9,000.
“The paddling made a big difference,” says Brown. “That brought us back into the race.”
While the race had its relaxed moments of full desert tent camping scenes and mandatory rest times, it was anything but easier than the usual six-day adventure races that Team Salomon/Crested Butte typically competes in.
“It was a departure from what we’re used to,” says Brown. “20 hours of trudging through sand up to your knees was suffering. It was one of the toughest races I’ve done in awhile. Instead of pacing yourself over six days, when you’re going you gotta be full-on going.”
The race concludes the 2008 adventure-racing season for Team Salomon/Crested butte as a unit. Looking back, Brown saw it as a successful year for the squad.
“It was a good season,” says Brown. “We were hoping to have a top three and we got that in Ireland.”