Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trillium Trek

This past Saturday the girls and I did the Trillium Trek, a family-friendly adventure race at the Elachee Nature Center. I found out about it last year, but Sophie wasn't old enough to compete. This year, she would be though, so we practiced and trained and Saturday morning, it was on.

We got up early, grabbed some breakfast at the Waffle House and headed over to Gainesville. It was 43 degrees. That's spring in Georgia. 43 in the morning, and guaranteed to be mid to high 80's by noon.

The event organizers had marked a parking spot for each team's transition area. We unloaded our bikes and gear, cruised through check-in and ran around back of the nature center for the pre-race meeting.

The race started and ended on the back patio, on a big chalk trillium:

 Trillium Trek

There were 3 events: orienteering, mountain biking and hiking. In addition to checkpoints and route-finding, there were special challenges, both mental and physical, and trivia questions. The checkpoints and challenges were mandatory. The trivia was optional, but worth potentially valuable time bonuses. I'd picked up our passport and orienteering map at check-in. We'd pick up the bike and hike maps as we started each of those legs.

It was all so familiar... the race day preparations, check-in, swag-bags, the pre-race meeting, the timing table, riders, race promoters, everything. It was really cool to keep looking over and seeing my girls in the middle of all of it.

 Pre-Race Meeting

It's hard to explain. Seeing them standing there, actually paying attention to the race director explain the rules... It was just really cool to me that we were doing this together. I've done so many things by myself that my family has seen almost nothing of except for a few old photos or a few old stories - freestyle and skateboarding in high school, playing in a band in college, a million bike races and epic rides. And it's one thing to spectate, you do get some insight from that, which is why I love to go to their gym meets, dance recitals and art shows, but it's a whole other level to participate. We were doing this together and they were excited to do it. It made me feel fortunate.

Johnny might have been feeling a little less fortunate.


He and Norma were there, but Norma was on a team, Johnny was solo, and Johnny doesn't do maps. When they race together, Norma does all the navigation. He's strong enough to keep up with anybody though, so I guessed his strategy was to follow people to the checkpoints and then blow them away on the bike and hike routes.

At the start, they staggered us by a minute each. We were team 10...


...the last team to go. When there were 10 minutes on the clock, we took off. Sophie was navigating. She got us to the first trivia checkpoint. There were two ladies there with a device that made bird calls. But, first we had to get the device working, then decipher the calls. The crow was obvious, so was the mourning dove. The other two we guessed, though Sophie seemed really sure of the chickadee. From there, Iz bushwhacked us to the first proper checkpoint.

Along the way, we discovered why it was called the Trillium Trek. You literally could not walk 2 feet without seeing a trillium of some kind.


The kids and I have explored all over Elachee and never seen them before. I guess we were there at the wrong time of year or something. They were everywhere. I even ran across this weird - 4 leafed trillium:

 4-Leaf Trillium

I wonder if that's rare. I only saw one all day out of literally thousands. The "tri" part of the word "trillium" refers to the three leaves, so can you still call a 4-leafer a trillium? Those thoughts wandered around my brain for the rest of the day.

We ran into another family looking for the first checkpoint, which turned out to be pretty far away from the dot on the map.

Sophie got us to the next CP. Right as we finished there, about a dozen racers mobbed us from the other direction. They had, no doubt, gotten some or all of the other CP's already.

The next trivia question was just up the trail - "What kind of plant is this?" Big surprise, it was a trillium of some kind. Johnny was looking at it. "Dave, do you have any idea what this is?" There were 5 other guys with him, and none of them knew either. My hint was: "Think really hard about what we're doing." Unfortunately, I don't know what kind of trillium it was. I need to learn those.

The next CP was fairly tricky to find. It was pretty far away from the dot on the map, but we got it. The next 2 were really easy and the girls had no time leading us to them. After that, we had to do a challenge where they made three equilateral triangles out of straws and we had to make 4 equilateral triangles by only moving 3 straws. Being a computer nerd, you'd think I'd be able to get that right away, but maybe I've had too many concussions or something and though we fiddled with it for 5 minutes before finally running out of time. The solution, though tricky, was pretty obvious in hindsight.

To get the next CP, we had to cross a creek and climb and descend a really steep hill.


On the way down, we noticed that somebody had tied a rope to a tree, which would have made it really fast and easy. How did we not notice that earlier? From there, it was just a steady hike back to the nature center. We were an hour and 45 minutes in. If we could knock the bike ride out in an hour, we'd have plenty of time.

Unfortunately, our transition was not very efficient. There were bathrooms at the start/finish, so we all changed clothes, myself included. It was now in the high 70's. Of course, both girls had to use the bathroom too and Sophie thought she had brought her shorts, but they were back in the car, so she had to go change in the car. We'd also planned on riding with our camelbacks, but it turned out that Sophie's really kept her from being able to get going, so they had to ditch theirs, but only after transferring some of their gear into mine. We'll definitely have to work on our transitions in the future.

The bike route led up from Elachee to Chicopee.


Sophie has no gears so I had to give her a push near the top of the hill. Iz climbed it with no problem. I'm taking her to Noontootla the next chance I get. The road to Chicopee goes across a bridge over I-985, and riding over the interstate, for some reason, thrilled Isabel.

At the Chicopee lot we had 2 challenges. I had to chuck newspapers into buckets, while riding, from about 4 feet away, then the girls had to do a human ring toss where one girl had to throw a partially inflated bike tube over the other girl. I got all three papers. The girls got one of the 3 ring-tosses. I wish I had a video of the ring toss, it was really cute.

Next, we had about a 5 or 6 mile bike ride through Chicopee. In some ways, the girls did really well. The trail was windy, bench-cut singletrack with no shortage of climbs and downhills. The beginner trail wasn't steep, but it was occasionally rough and occasionally steep enough where Sophie just couldn't make the pedals turn. Aside from those climbs, they rode everything. If Sophie had gears and working hand-brakes, she could have ridden way more. Iz could have ridden everything if she didn't have to stop for Sophie.

They did struggle a bit though. If Sophie needed to walk, she'd get off smoothly and start walking, but Iz would ride up too close, get crossed up on her, then almost fall getting off because she couldn't lean her bike over without bumping into Sophie, then she'd fuss at Sophie, who would get pissed and stop to argue back, and then they'd both stop, and then Sophie would go and Iz wouldn't be ready, so Sophie would say "Come on!" and Iz would get pissed because she didn't like to be rushed and then she'd say "Wait!" and then Sophie would stop and have to get started again and the scenario would start over... All of that kind of stuff. It would have been funny if we hadn't been trying to get somewhere quickly.

Sophie also fell over once, got kind of pinned down under her pedal and started screaming. Instead of riding up to her Iz tried to stop right there for some reason, half fell over herself, then got upset because I was more concerned over Sophie, who was still screaming, than her, who I could see was fine. Woohoo.

Not that big of a deal though. We had all of those same issues hiking way back. With experience and confidence, they disappeared.

One of the trails was a relatively steep downhill and Sophie wasn't capable of walking her bike down. She weighs like 48 pounds, and it just kept dragging her down faster and faster, so I let her walk mine instead.


The next challenge was changing a tube, which I apparently did in record time.

The next section of trail was an advanced trail - even for me. We could skip it and take a 20 minute time penalty, but that was fine, it would have taken us way longer than 20 minutes to ride it.

Instead, we rode out on a gravel road, navigated through a maze of neighborhood streets and took some more gravel roads and trails back to the Chicopee lot. There was a rock-identification trivia challenge right as we went back into the woods too. Gneiss, Limestone, Sandstone and Marble. Could you identify those rocks? The girls could. Yay school!

There were some really interesting ruins of a large old building back in there too, that I'd never seen before. I'm going to have to do some exploring around there, I think.

When we got back to Elachee, we had 1 hour and 55 minutes left, but we also found out that the hike was 4.5 miles. We were welcome to go for it, but really, the volunteers needed to get back, and there was just no way we could finish in time, especially since the most difficult challenge was about halfway around the route. We called it a day, ate 3 pounds of barbeque each, listened to some live music and watched the rest of the teams come in. One of the family teams finished with only a minute and 20 seconds left on the clock. We were joking about how awesome it would be if that happened. Then when it did, it was even awesomer.

I'd noticed the "live animal room" when I went to the bathroom earlier. We checked that out too. It was full of snakes and bugs and tortoises. A lady who worked there showed us a Floridian Gopher Tortoise that they'd gotten because a guy had won it as a gag prize in a golf tournament in Florida. It had been painted red and had a trophy glued to it's back. I've got to believe that the guys that ran the tournament just found it by the lake and one of them was like: "Huh, huh, I got an idea..." not realizing it was an endangered species. The guy who won it brought it back to Georgia, his wife recognized it and they donated it to Elachee. What are the odds of that?

At the end of the day, we packed up and headed home. I'd say I was proud of the girls, but that's not exactly the right way to put it. Being proud implies that I started with some amount of doubt, and it wasn't like that. There's nothing like getting a crew together to do some difficult thing and then everybody performs and nobody complains. You work hard, you have fun, there's low stress, and it's just satisfying. It was like that. I've had a lot of adventures with the girls, but this was the first time we competed together and it was a new kind of good. We've got some things to work on, but we've also got a year to dial them in. Next year we'll finish. We might even place. All you other teams better watch out.

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