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Adventure Race: Ludington Michigan 2021

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

Epic Coastline light house worth the extra 1.2 mile run each way at the end of the day

The pitch black canopy overhead matches the abyss of light that’s been swallowed up by the early morning; dressed with a cool breeze in the air and a starless sky overhead. The map packages are handed out with team check ins and we begin to glance over them under head lamp and collectively decide that we don’t know what to do with them and unanimously decide to wing it. Both my adventure race partner and I have had our bikes stolen within the last month and after a mad dash to find bikes to borrow hadn’t yet fitted them at all and for what’s wagered to be a 35-40 mile ride it seems like it might be beneficial if for nothing more than comfort not even considering speed. It is our first race of this kind , though I have drooled over it on web searches for years, that encompasses orienteering and multi discipline sport endurance. Michigan Adventure Racing boasts a comprehensive, challenging course comprised of 5-6 miles of Lake Michigan paddling, 35-40 beach to single track biking, and 10-13 miles of trekking ; all of which is at will in an effort to efficiently collect all points dispersed throughout the terrain. There are few rules ; you have 10 hours , don’t talk to strangers – or really anyone not on your team about anything with the race while your racing, and no GPS enabled devices outside of your own awesome compass and map reading navigation. We know nothing other than we’re going to try whatever it is we’re doing on the course for the 10 hours – the cooler is packed with snacks, the day is just beginning, and the sun begins to hit the surface of the surrounding water illuminating the faces of all the geeking out competitors. At 8:35am the horns blast into the air and we race towards the sandy beaches…

Immediate chaos – were we supposed to set up a canoe? There’s a lot of yelling going on but we ultimately find an unguarded, unlabeled ,and unattended beached canoe. We retrieve paddles and our safety vest and paddle in the direction of well , all the other boats. It doesn’t seem hard, and after what felt like 20 minutes of interpretive canoe steering and paddling we find ourselves at the first orange and white marker … this isn’t so hard! It also helps when there’s a passive harbor of kayakers and canoeists similarly punching their cards at the point, but victory none the less. We paddle through green algae marshes with towering golden marigold reaching for the grey overcast early morning skies. We follow a path through the water – a distinct separation of marsh as distinguishable as a sidewalk cemented into a neighborhood route. The route reaches points of portage where we carry out our canoe from the water over roots, logs, and foliage alike – it was then I knew, though earlier suspected, my feet would remain wet for the duration of the race. We’re kind of impressively keeping up with the aggregate of the group of which we assumed were far more experienced in this sort of thing because of the way they aggressively assessed and calculated their routes and maps with glossy paper coatings and markers- and because it’s the 10 hour option as opposed to the beginning 6 hour option. I have never been one to sign up for the lesser of mileage or challenge when presented endurance races of sorts and I wasn’t about to start with this one – I was very lucky that my teammate was able and willing to take on such a daunting day. We’re moving great until point five when I decidedly took a shortcut back to the canoe to hit our fifth point which proved to be the exact opposite because it resulted in what I’d like to refer to as the scenic route walking the wooded island. Neither of us were game to swim the marsh back to the canoe when we finally made our way back to visual proximity to the bright red canoe seated against fallen yellow and brown grass depressed back into the earth by careless footprints. What was once a canalizing path of beached canoes and kayaks now remained just ours after our detour the map from here became mildly more confusing. To this day I’m not sure if we paddled the right way but we got our canoe over one more patch of land and arrived promptly to our final water bore point leaving only a straight shot vigorous paddle back to the starting sands. It’s about 10 am – I’m not wearing a watch, but I have a very accurate stomach that keeps me aware of time ranges. The sun is finally breaking through the clouds and it’s becoming an extraordinarily beautiful morning ; colors in the tree’s – their orange and brown hues cascade to life with each ray reaching their layers of leaves along the coastline. It is epic.

Time for a double take on the single track

We’re 7 for 7 and it’s on to the bike the leg of the race I’m least looking forward to. Uncertain of the comfort and feel of the bikes that neither of us have ridden yet , and even less certain of which of the five maps we were supposed to use for this section , had me feeling prepared for some slow and extra mileage. I told myself if we f*cked up this section, I’d ride the remaining hours before I quit. My teammate looks like one of those kids riding a bike they stole from their little sibling to go hang out with their friends in the neighborhood and I can not stop laughing at the size ratio. Never the less, she rides that bike and rides it impressively fast for the many hours we spent on road and singletrack. We’re mounted and begin riding – I have , what I believe is the right map, jerry-rigged onto the handlebars with the intent and delusion that I can read it accurately while we’re riding with speed. I say “ left up here” which results in a nice overview of an additional parking lot. A great predication to my understanding of the map and where we were going on those bikes. We find our way out of the park only because I distinctly remember reading in the race rules the only bathroom in this partition of the race is at the general store in passing on the M1 Highway into the park. The map clearly defines water to our right so we just pedal right on. There’s a grouping of bikers right along the beach, it says point 10, I admittedly express that it’s not on our map and our first point should be on the left in some undeterminable distance. This isn’t true, but I don’t know that. We stop at a bridge crossing really confused as to why a bridge, a pretty significant man made feature, wouldn’t be displayed on the map for orienteering to existing infrastructure to guiderail. Now there’s water to our left, water to our right, and a golf course ahead. This isn’t looking like wooded singletrack we were expecting. Tempted to ask the million people in passing we continue on in hope that a beam of light from the heavens above will shine on down the path we are meant to turn at because we definitely do not know. A couple more miles into our ride and the lack of bikers passing back towards the park makes us decide to reassess all of our maps. My partner takes all five maps, lays them out on the random driveway we’ve taken over, and begins to compare. It’s clear now, that we may not have been using the most practical piece of the maps considering there is one with street names, man made features, and believe it or not – bridges labeled on it. We quickly recalculate and as we’ve all heard our phones and cars shout at us – we re routed. It didn’t take long for us to find our way to the singletrack and mud we were longing for. We’re flying now. We’re on our final two pedal points – we’ve hit 1-15 at this point between paddling and pedaling, and we’re graveling through the track. My teammate helps identify a fallen log, by falling on the log, and I’m roaring with laughter – she’s fine. We pedal back and after switching maps it turns out the first one we had passed was in-fact one of ours- we snag it on the beautiful beach and head back to the start point.

We elect to skip what appeared to be a very confusing bike-trek section with slippery bridges and choose to step into the trekking section. This is what I was most excited about and felt most confident in. We half hazardly walk towards the woods I’m scarfing down a tortilla and had just chugged half an energy drink since I absolved my body of precious coffee that morning. We hit our first point easily sitting up on a hilltop ridgeline and proceed to our next swamp seated point. One by one we cross marshes, navigate trails, and dead reckon through wooded forest. There were awesome terrain features that allowed us to terrain associate and really just feel the map and earth out without getting to technical on the map. Hilltops, ridges, contour lines, trail intersections, and marshes were key to work off of and with. We cooped nearly twenty points by foot with a gnarly 1.2 mile run , each way, to snag one final coastal lighthouse point we didn’t think we had time for earlier. The terrain shifted from soft sandy ridges in the sun to muddy sinking earth within the span of certain sections of the course. The feeling of really connecting to the ecosystem around us that we were even if only for moments stepping into was wildly freeing. I was, however, attacked by a hornet which I have found to be a reoccurring issue with my adventures to Michigan. My ear and neck swelled up pretty significantly so I do not recommend that run in, but the running on the course was amazing.

Wasp sting; totally lobular dude

We finished just before 7pm equating to just under 10 hours of epic fun. The sun was cresting in the horizon as we crossed the asphalt to the patch of grass at the park pavilion where we embarked from that morning; the air once again shifted to a cool crisp fall ambiance. The feeling of accomplishment swelled in every participant , not unlike my belly as I stuffed it with the provided pulled pork sandwich and macaroni and cheese. We made friends with our car neighbors as we swapped stories about our day, shared the photographer responsibilities, and packed up the mess of gear and supplies from the day. It’s days like this where you can’t help but just feel awesome. The ability to move and be challenged; to be surrounded by unique and colorful spirits, and connecting to nature is so inspiring and fulfilling. 10/10 would do again – and will do again. Adventure is often associated with glamorized poaceous peaks – and I do love a good climb, but adventure is the idea of exploration both intrinsically and outside. This race was both. An inner discovery of persistence, depth, and grit while also very literally exploring the outside world ,within ourselves, among others and connected with the universe.

Didn't seem to be lights on in the house, but still a cool lighthouse

Couple notes about the experience outside of the race:

We stayed at Snyder Shoreline Inn; beachside on Lake Michigan the hot tub wasn’t working sadly because that was premier post race amenity but the location was phenomenal. Hit the sunrise right on the water and we were able to walk to a lighthouse and the maritime museum.

We had breakfast at Brenda’s Harbor Café off of James Street in downtown Ludington; strongly recommend the Captains breakfast comprised of bacon, sausage, pancakes, eggs , toast, and potatoes – especially post race day breakfast kind of meal. It was a cute old school vibe café nestled in a block of downtown history.

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