New Balance Mega Dose Adventure Race
By Dawn Taylor Mann
The Natural Bridge is a monument to American history, the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Indians who recognized its geologic significance centuries before it became a tourist attraction. On Friday night, August 20, it served as the backdrop to the monumental undertaking that lie ahead of the 36 teams that stood below it. Clad in the latest adventure racing gear and headlamps, they gathered like fireflies under the 215 ft. stone arch, which is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. As colored lights highlighted the Bridge and Indian music played, the energy grew to a peak when race director Ronny Angell started the race, which was presented by outdoor retailer Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.
In the next 40 hours, athletes would cover up to 140 miles of some of the most stunning and rugged terrain in the Blue Ridge corridor. Forty-thousand feet of elevation gain and loss challenged even the most seasoned athletes - just as Odyssey’s doctor and sadistic course designer, George Wortley intended. The race started with the New Balance 8k Run that took racers to a midnight creek trek and pitch-dark river crossing. The following 45-mile bike leg offered 2 huge grueling climbs and 2 well-earned descents after teams forged through chest-high grass and downed trees.
Most teams finished the bike leg near daybreak in time to start the river swim. Balcony Falls, an infamous James River rapid, was a solid class III as athletes maneuvered their boogie boards through its fast moving water. They emerged down river and proceeded to power their way through 1 ½ miles of flatwater. One competitor chose not to wear fins and did the breaststroke with his board for 3 hours on a leg that took most teams an hour and a half.
The following 26-mile trekking marathon featured another two hefty climbs, bushwhacking, and rattlesnake-laden creek beds. The highlight of the trekking leg was the climb site, which was set by the indomitable Dirty Dozen, famed rock jocks lead by Travis Overstreet, who have set the standard for sports rigging at all of Odyssey’s adventure races. Their creation included a rope-assisted ascent, gravity-defying gorge traverse and 70’ rappel. It was the 4-point orienteering course that was the great divider; separating the Adventure class teams from the 5 teams that would go on to complete the entire 140-mile PRO course. It was at this point where 4-person team Switch broke away from team New Balance/Odyssey and soloist Joe Moerschbaecher on their way to lead the remainder of the race. In the O-Course, teams were given 4 UTM coordinates. Those who found at least 3 remained in the PRO course.
Most teams opted to “go Adventure” with the requirement of finding just one point on the course. Co-race director Don Mann said one of the points was at the top of the “steepest hill I was ever on that wasn’t an actual cliff.” Only two teams, Switch and 2-person Hype, left the orienteering course with 4 punches on their cards, and a total of 6 teams found at least 3 points. While the Adventure teams were now on a shortened bike course on their way to the finish line, the 5 remaining teams in the PRO course faced two 4000’ climbs up Pompeii and Mount Pleasant. Their ascent over the Blue Ridge Parkway lead them to a fast, yet technical single-track and fireroad descent. On their way to the finish line, all teams were treated to kitschy Foamhenge - a life-size foam replica of the mysterious Stonehenge megalithic monument in southwest England.
With nothing but a ½ mile straight shot from Foamhenge to the finish line, teams made a mad dash back to Natural Bridge Inn, the host hotel. While the race started under the infamous arch of the Natural Bridge, it appropriately ended under the New Balance finish arch. Team Switch maintained their lead and finish first overall in the PRO category in just 35 hours 12 minutes. After accounting for orienteering points, team Hype earned the second place overall rank, in 39:21; followed by team New Balance/Odyssey in third with a time of 41:48. Joe Moerschbaecher, after a 9-month racing hiatus due to injury, took a solid 4th overall placement in 42:36; and 4-person team Action-Learning.com rounded out the PRO category their 5th overall win in 43:53.
The Adventure Category was won by 2-person male team Mason Dixon, with a 39:24 time calculated after finding 3 or the orienteering points. Soloist Jacob Shapiro took 2nd in 41:08. Jacob arrived under the finish line first with Patrick O’Meara (from unofficial team V-Factor), who recounted how he fell asleep on a 40-mph descent without falling off his bike. Two-person female team Suicidal Barbies, made up of Julia Pollock and veteran Cammy Ronchetto took third place in the Adventure Category, further proving that adventure racing is a sport where women can compete on a level playing field with men.
Several teams who competed in the “Dose” did so as a training opportunity to get ready to compete in the New Balance BEAST of the East in November. This 4-day race, to be held in the Big South Fork area of TN, is also offered to soloists, 2-person and 4-person teams.
Photos from the New Balance Mega Dose can be found on adventure photographer Will Ramos’ website, _www.0Bounds.com_ (http://www.0bounds.com/) . Will’s photos have been featured in several publications including Sports Illustrated and Adventure Sports Magazine.