DART Nuun takes on the Michigan 24hr Adventure Race

Written by Mari Chandler

Dart Nuun’s first adventure race of the season kicked off with a quick trip to Michigan for the 24 hr Adventure Rage. I grew up just 20 min south of where the race HQ and finish would be, so it was pretty hard to pass up an opportunity to race on my ‘home turf’. Aaron Rinn also had grown up in Michigan so he also found this race to be a good excuse to come back to visit family. Also joining us was Matt Hayes & Ryan Ognibene. We needed a support crew for this race so I recruited my mom and brother-in-law. They had crewed for us during the 4 day ‘Michigan Mix’ expedition race a few years ago and had become pros.

After finishing maps and loading gear into the support vehicle (a 25 ft RV), we were able to grab a few short hours of pre-race sleep. At 4 am, we were up and out the door to travel to a remote start location 45 min away to make a 5 a.m. very dark and very early start. Unfortunately, we made a small navigation error and overshot the start location. Oops!! But this would be our only nav error and we didn’t mind giving the other 19 teams a 10 min head start.

The race started with a 3 hour trek section in the Huron National Forest in which we were required to carry our bike helmets and shoes. Along the way we bumped into all of the other teams as we grabbed 6 checkpoints before finding our bikes which our support crew had dropped at a remote location for us. Next we had a short ride to the Rifle River Recreation Area. We blew into the main parking lot and waved at our support crew as we entered a fun single track loop course. After completing the single track section we briefly stopped to pick up our paddle gear from our support crew. We also learned that we were in the lead and about 20 min ahead of the next team. After another short ride, we arrived at the Au Sable Lake boating access site. We quickly dropped our bikes and transitioned to canoes. As we launched our boats we were surprised to see our support crew arrive to pick up our bikes. They had closed up their TA and made it down to see us off in record time. We would not see them until the end of the paddle.

The paddle started off relatively easy as we paddled across Au Sable Lake, into Little Au Sable Lake, and onto Rat Lake before entering a very small narrow river (South Branch River) for the start of the canoe obstacle course….. Michigan winter weather had littered the river with many downed trees and it was a very ‘entertaining’ paddle as we frequently had to get out of the canoes to drag our boats up and over trees. After about 2 ½ hours we got off the river for a 4 mile mandatory portage to avoid a particularly bad tree fallen section. This was the easiest portage we had ever done. The race staff allowed us to leave our boats at the take out and we only had to run with our paddle gear down a dirt road until we found new canoes waiting for us at the put in. We were back in the canoes and had to maneuver around a few more trees before we joined the bigger Au Sable River which made for much smoother paddling. The Au Sable River has 6 dams which operate hydro-electric power plants along the 138 miles that it stretches across northern Michigan. There are designated portage areas to get around each dam safely and easily. We had to portage Loud Dam as well as Five Channels Dam which was our canoe take out and TA. As we paddled to Five Channels Dam we were greeted by my entire family who had come out to cheer us on.

Next would be a trek section that continued along the Au Sable River. As we left the TA we told our support crew we would see them in 4 hours at the next TA. The combination of Matt’s mad navigation skills and fairly easy mostly runnable open terrain allowed us to grab 6 more checkpoints at record pace. There were some fun knee deep swamps along the edge of the river and a few small wet crossings, but we arrived at Cooke Dam in 3 hours! As we ran across the dam we were happy to see that the RV was there despite our early arrival, but we could see my family as well as race staff running in from all directions, surprised to see us.

This was the final TA of the course. We would be on our own for the remaining 5 – 6 hours. We knew at this point that we were at least 2-3 hours in the lead. We left the TA on our bikes and we each picked up a fresh pair of Vasque trail running shoes that we knew we would need later for an orienteering course.  We picked up 3 more checkpoints while biking before we arrived at the Pine River Campground. Here we dropped our bikes and quickly put on running shoes and were off for a Orienteering section in which all 5 checkpoints were optional. Most teams ended up skipping this portion of the race to make it back to the finish before the race cut off time. Lucky for us, we had daylight on our side and were able to clear the majority of the o-course before darkness fell. This would be a tough section for teams arriving in the dark. After grabbing the last o-course checkpoint, we were once again back on our bikes and en route to the finish. We had to pick up 4 more checkpoints (2 were optional) along the way before arriving at the finish line at Van Etten Lake at 12:33 a.m., 19 ½ hours since we had started.

Infiterra Sports and the Michigan River Rats put on an amazing race course. It was well worth the trip!