Santee Surf and Turf Triathlon & Biathlon

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Rounding the bend at the turn around point

April 26, 2014

Trail Run + Kayak + Mtn Bike + BBQ= AWESOMENESS. This is the tagline that drew us into a race comprised of 3 miles trail running, 3 miles flat-water kayaking or 1.5 miles SUP, and 8 miles of mountain biking for the triathlon option. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by the sound of that adventure party? Three fun sports followed by BBQ, is difficult to pass up. Evidently, Adventure Geek Productions has been putting on some form of this race for the last 4 years, but we have never heard anything about it until we stumbled upon it via the internet one evening about 3 weeks before it was due to take place. We were super excited because the distances for this race are not crazy long and it is a unique combination of disciplines for a tri or biathlon.

Once we discovered this event, we immediately tried to talk several different friends and family members into doing it with us, but with only a few weeks notice, there were no takers. Despite our initial excitement, we went back and forth about it for quite a while, halfway training and allowing the signup deadline to creep closer and closer. Finally, with only hours to spare we signed up. David picked the triathlon, because he is a beast in possession of a sweet new-to-him mountain bike, while I opted for the easier biathlon which took out the biking. With some trepidation, we loaded up our gear and headed south, joined by a couple of great friends who agreed to hang out and kindly helped with water, gear etc.

The lakefront course and the beach (photo credit: Garrison Morris)

The lakefront course and the beach (photo credit: Garrison Morris)

We arrived about an hour and a half before the race started, checked in and got instructions about where to station our kayaks on the beach. It is a first come, first serve situation for getting your paddling position so we were glad to be there in enough time to have a couple options left. My husband and one of our friends carried the boats down and strategically picked a spot by some very cool racing kayaks. While we were getting situated we met a super nice couple who had done the race multiple times before. They provided some great insider tips about where the run dumped out and the distances between the run finish line and the kayak start. This definitely helped to ease our nerves, but everyone around us looked so hardcore and intense, we still felt like we might get destroyed in each of our respective races.

To begin the event, they gathered everyone at the start/finish line and directed us into the woods where we followed red arrows for the run and passed blue arrows that directed mountain bikers during the third leg of the race. The race started almost at a diagonal left, across an open grassy area, past the bike staging zone as well as some picnic spots. That was the only slightly confusing part of the race. We had never run at Santee before, so we didn’t know where the trail was going to begin and as previously stated it wasn’t really a straight shot out of the start line. After we got into the woods, turns were clearly marked, and the course was pretty flat and easy, covered in packed dirt and pine needles. As soon as we hit the finish line our kayak time began. We ran a little more than a quarter of a mile to the boat launch, threw on our pfds, and got launched by the volunteers. The kayak course was two 1.5 mile loops that paralleled the shoreline. If you used an SUP (we did not), you only had to do one loop. Once we finished that, we hopped out of our kayaks as quickly as possible and ran back to the start/finish line. For me, that was the end of the race. David changed shoes, strapped on his helmet and hit the trails again for the 8 mile bike ride. The biking definitely added a significant level of challenge to this event. It wasn’t steep or super technical, according to David, but doing three events over two is definitely more exhausting. Still, we both had very solid finishes. David was 11th overall in the triathlon and I won the much smaller biathlon.

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Final pump to the finish

All together, I would heartily recommend this event. It’s a unique challenge to do multiple activities back to back, and we appreciated the fact that this tri/biathlon was off-road and did not involve swimming, a sport we are definitely not in shape for right now. You can rent kayaks through several different outdoor vendors connected to the race which is helpful if you don’t own a boat, and the field of participants is not huge which we found less intimidating. The post-race party atmosphere was great too, with food, plenty of Heed and water, and great camaraderie. If we do it again next year, I would definitely work on my biking and try to do the triathlon, but the biathlon is a great option if you don’t bike. The race can also be run as a team, so grab some friends and start planning for next year’s Santee Surf and Turf Triathlon & Biathlon.

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Please note the ample BBQ and the Start/Finish line behind us 🙂

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

For more details about this race and other fun events sponsored by Adventure Geek Productions check out this website: http://www.adventuregeekproductions.com/santee-surf-and-turf.html

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Middle Prong Wilderness Backpacking

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Exploring the meadow

For some reason, we have yet to get motivated to do a winter camping trip. In some ways, it’s silly because we live in the Southeast and spring or fall temperatures at 6,000 feet elevation are often just as cold as anything we would encounter at lower altitudes in the dead of winter. Regardless, we have a mental block about it and just don’t get motivated to gear up and go during the winter. So when spring, in all its wishy washy starts and stops begins to melt and green the landscape, we inevitably feel that the time has come to venture out into nature. This year we had the added pull of friends who invited us to join them. Remembering that semi-spontaneous backpacking is often the only way we end up doing this sort of thing, we immediately accepted the offer and quickly started planning.

On this occasion, we got an amazing recommendation from Bob, a church friend who has spent many years as a scout master and an adventurer at large. We were relaying our customary debate of whether to return to an old, beloved location or explore somewhere new with the risk of disappointment, when he described a place he had nicknamed “the Shire” because of its wild beauty, quiet green paths, and dramatic scenic views. Immediately, we were captivated, and I definitely felt like any place besides the Shire would be a total letdown.

Our friend described where this place was, but with our lack of experience we couldn’t begin to place it. He mentioned something about figuring out more specific details for us, but it was nearing our departure day and I wasn’t sure we would be able to reconnect in time to get the information and make it happen. We were in for a surprise. I don’t think 24 hours passed before my mother-in-law dropped off a map she had received from Bob at a church function. It felt like a treasure map, with its circles and other markings. I poured over it eagerly, and then immediately texted a picture of it to my husband. It was quickly settled that the Shire would be our destination, and looking at the map we found that it was in an area called the Middle Prong Wilderness (not Middle-Earth) near Mount Hardy.

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Our map

We began to research our travel route and look for various hiker accounts of the trail. The intrigue continued as multiple sources described a place of unmarked trails, gorgeous vistas, stream crossings, and many accidental wrong turns. After printing two detailed accounts of the trails we were planning to take into this area, stuffing our bags and car, and loading up on enough food for 3 days of backpacking, we set out on our 1 night trip. (We tend to overpack in hopes that it will make us feel less unprepared to face the wild.)

Without cell phone service, it was a little tricky to connect with our friends, but thankfully our meeting place and timing worked out perfectly. We had no specifics on where to actually set up camp, but we figured we could just start hiking and keep our eyes open. One of the hiker accounts had mentioned a meadow that sounded promising about 4 miles in, so that was our tentative goal.

The hike was unbelievable. There were lovely streams, carpets of moss, boulder-sized rocks, and dark higher elevation forest growth that added an air of mystery to the whole scene. As the sun was getting ready to set we finally stumbled upon a meadow. We weren’t even sure we had taken the right turn, but the trees opened up and as we continued to climb we came to a stunning clearing. The view revealed mountain after mountain and a softly setting sun. Along the way, we had not passed other hikers, but scattered across this spot a few pairs of other backpackers were also making camp. We settled in for the night, made dinner, hung our bear bag, and slept as soundly as possible.

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Sunset Summit

Ironically, our lovely spring camping trip ended up being about as cold as any we’ve taken. It cooled off dramatically as soon as the sun began to set, and in the morning it felt even colder. We were so grateful for our nervousness-induced overpacking because it had included some hastily snagged gloves and beanies. Our breakfast was a feast with french pressed coffee, eggs, and summer sausage, but even with that we never quite warmed up until the hike down was almost complete. Nevertheless, we all felt that we had indeed found a treasure with the help of our special map, and we are determined to return as soon as possible for more adventures. This place is breathtaking!

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A cold, tired Zoe dog

Hike or Backpack this trail: This area is not far from Graveyard Fields off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’m posting two of the blog posts we looked at because they were very detailed and helpful to us. There are a lot of different ways to explore the Middle Prong Wilderness, but we found this to be a great entry point. http://www.hikewnc.info/besthikes/middle-prong-wilderness/green-knob http://smokyscout.blogspot.com/2012/04/normal-0-false-false-false-en-us-x-none.html

Tips: Always exercise caution when exploring a wilderness area. We found out ahead of time that campfires are not allowed in this region, so that is definitely something to be aware of if you’re camping. This is a decently tough hike, definitely not something you would want to do without water, a map, good footwear, and some careful study beforehand about what to expect. The trails are pretty worn, but it does seem like you could get lost pretty easily since there are no signs. Always take a buddy or let people know where you’re going and when you expect to return.

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!