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Mark Twain National Forest Adventure Race
Twin Bridges
, Missouri
May 31, 2003
report by Aaron Luffman

Coming off of a good race at Greenleaf and a disappointing race at the Ozark Challenge, Gravity Matters approached the Mark Twain Adventure Race (MTAR) with the optimistic, but obtainable, goal of winning. Brandi, Deron, Mat, and yours truly, are experienced and in shape so we knew we had a shot. Approaching the race, training had gone well. Brandi even decided on a whim to join a team for the 3.5 day Rock and Roll Rattlesnake Challenge in TX – just as a warm-up. We were ready. Even the prerace preparations seemed to go well. That’s why we were disappointed that we only finished in front of 78 of our 89 other competing teams. 12th place, not bad but disappointing.

Prerace was uneventful but nothing at 4AM is fun. By 5:30 I was trying to relieve myself one last time before a bus ride to the starting line. By 5:45 we were steaming down the road, standing in an old school bus and I was feeling nauseous. I’d been fighting a weird cold/flu for the last couple weeks and I thought I had it kicked but the bus ride proved it was still with me. By the time we unloaded the busses at 6:30 I was feeling a bit better but definitely not 100%.

After a few race announcements and sponsor mentions the 4th annual MTNF AR was off with a bang. The first leg of the race was a 6.5-mile run on gravel and dirt roads. Knowing it would be a long day we tried to keep a reasonable pace, probably about 9.5 min miles, and we made an effort to stick together better than we normally do on these runs. The running had a significantly negative effect on my stomach and as a result I had to give Brandi my pack after about 2 miles. At about mile 3 we were surprised to see about 15 teams running back the other direction. After a quick check of the map and directions we determined that they were loony and we continued on for about ½ mile to the "cement slab" that was our confirmation that we were on track. We picked off a few more teams as we ran through the rolling hills and along the tree lined fields of Southern Missouri.

About a mile from the transition to the canoe leg I tried to run ahead and take a "break" in the woods, (did I mention I wasn’t feeling well?). I wasn’t fast enough though because the rest of the team was standing around waiting for me when I hopped back out on the road a couple of minutes later. I felt slightly better and we cruised into the TA in about 25th or 30th place.

We had talked in the bus about what the best configuration would be on the river and we determined it should be Mat and me in one canoe with Brandi and Deron in the other. So, off we go, passing a few more teams in the TA waiting for the one Porta Potty (sure is a good thing I didn’t have to go anymore). The canoe has repeatedly been a frustrating leg for us and this race was no different. Mat and I leisurely paddled down the river ½ waiting for the other canoe and half trying not to let too many teams pass us. After a few minutes I decided I needed to get some calories down so I took a swig of my concentrated sustained energy that promptly made me start gagging. This turned out to be great since it finally allowed me to purge my stomach, much to the disgust of the canoe behind us. Surprisingly, I was feeling much better now and we continued on down the river.

For the next hour I kept turning around and seeing the other canoe just coming around a corner until I finally heard a frustrated and angry yell come from way back on the river to "WAIT UP!" Oops, my bad.

After pulling over to the side of the river, a frustrated Deron and I switched spots. That definitely sped us up as a whole but Brandi and I were still much faster and again I had a leisurely trip down the river, that is until I tipped us over right before the takeout.

At the takeout we hauled our canoes up the steep slope in about 20th place and ran over to the "special test". We had to pop one balloon with a bow and arrow from about 10 feet away… easy right, wrong. It took us each 2 turns to finally get the balloon popped. I’ll blame it on the bows that were inadequately week, so week the arrows kept bouncing off the balloons.

After a quick transition we began an 18 mile bike ride with a trekking section in the middle. I knew we could really catch teams on the bike and the trekking (which involved orienteering) so I thought we still had a chance at a decent finish but probably not the win. To start the bike we headed up a 1.5 mile hill with Deron towing Brandi the entire way and passing a number of dumbfounded teams grinding up the hill. The rest of the 10 mile bike was more of the same, Deron and me towing Brandi and Mat and us making great time as a whole.

During a slow and frustrating single-track section Mat began feeling sick to his stomach but he pushed on, albeit at a slower pace than normal. We finished up the last bit of biking with an uphill walk into the orienteering transition where we quickly changed shoes then hit the trail for a quick 3.5k jog to the three checkpoints as listed on the map. After taking a small gamble that a trail that wasn’t listed on the map would get us to where we were going we jogged and walked the 1k to the first checkpoint without incident, following the trail the entire way. When we got there we saw team Flying Monkeys for the first time of the day – I was hoping they were behind us somewhere –they were just leaving the checkpoint.

The volunteers at the checkpoint informed us that the rest of the O’ course had been canceled due to excessive undergrowth and poison ivy. I was extremely disappointed to hear that since navigation is a strong point for our team and I had hoped to pick up a few spots, but with Mat’s energy level quickly going downhill it was probably for the best. We took a dry creek bed back to the trail and that caught us back up with Flying Monkeys but they pulled away from us, for the last time, on the trail back to the TA. Mat had his low point of the race on the way back to the TA and he spent some time on the side of the trail gagging.

We managed to make it back to the TA and back onto the bikes with only one or two other teams passing us. I think we were all surprised to hear we were in 12th or 13th place leaving the TA for the race back to the finish.

On the uneventful bike back to the finish line we cruised along with Deron pulling Mat and me pulling Brandi (until she let me know I wasn’t helping anymore). After 7 hours and 36 minutes we crossed the finish line in unison… 12th place! Not bad for an off day on a short course with a couple of sick guys.

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