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BALANCE BAR 24 HOUR ADVENTURE RACE, Sean Hartman posted 9/23/02
Sean is a new team member this year and completed the 24 hour Balance Bar Adventure Race. This is his first-hand account of his team's experience.

Boston, You’re Our Home: “Team I love that Dirty Water” tackles the Boston Harbor Islands in the Balance Bar 24 Hour Adventure Race, 2002

Friday Night
Our day had gone smoothly, though it had been cold. At some point or another we were all probably flirting with hypothermia, just trying to keep warm, and stay hydrated and well-fed. And the race wouldn’t even start until the next day. We’d merely done certifications, check-in, and transported our bikes and transition gear the hour and a half (one-way) to PC2/TA1/TA2, out across the peninsula from Nantasket Beach, in Hull.

Jen and I had done several shorter races together, but Dave was new to the team, “Team I love that dirty water.” Boston (or at least the Boston area) is home to all of us. We thought it a clever team name. Sadly, no one got it. Not even the announcer at the end of the race. “Awww, come on, the water’s not that dirty!” Anyway, we’d trained together all of once, so we had that going for us. Fortunately, Dave had some solid experience, having competed in the Appalachian Extreme this year. He’s also in contention for the Hi Tech CoEd series win with two other folks – David Darby and Jen Shultis (far too many Jens and Daves involved). Darby and Shultis were also doing this race, with “Bob” as their third, as “Wheelworks Multisport.”

Map hand-out was delayed as many teams were held up coming back from dropping their bikes at Hull. Race books and maps were handed out and the rules reviewed by the course director. We plotted our points, plotted a course, and went home for some sleep, finally, around 9pm.

Now, I live in Cambridge. This particular night there were zero, ZERO parking spots. I have an increasing-diameter more-or-less-concentric-circle course I drive outwards from my apartment under such circumstances. I did this twice. I was tired. I was cranky. I wanted to be in bed. Finally, the third go-around, a break – someone had left a spot right near my apartment and I was set. I get out of the car. A random guy approaches me. “Hi…uh, do you have any jumper cables?” Oh, man. “I do…,” I tentatively replied. “Do you have time to give me a jump? If you’re in a hurry, I understand, it’s ok.” Now, there are very few circumstances in which I would not go out of my way to help someone. As it so happened, this was one of them. As we all know, the simple battery jump can turn epic, real fast. I was looking at potentially a 24 hour race or more the next day, and just really needed to get to sleep. “I’m really sorry, man, but I AM in a huge hurry.” “Ok,” he said. And I was off to my apartment, feeling bad.

I spent a while cutting off extraneous map bits, plotting key bearings on the water legs, and re-reading the race rules and course guidebook. But I didn’t dwell on the stuff – finally I got in bed but race nerves made sleep difficult.

Saturday – Race Day

After a few fitful hours of sleep I returned to my car to go the race site. I found a note on the windshield:

Talk about making me feel REALLY bad, now. But, I was off to the race. Somehow I made it to the race site with no navigational snafus – unheard of for me driving in Boston. Hence, I was there before anyone else, save the race director.

Finally I met up with my teammates, we got our boat in the water, and around 6:30am, the race started, a water start.

Paddle 1 – Fan Pier to Hull: 12 miles (2 hours, 46 minutes)

The field was, relatively speaking, together at this point in the race. The elite teams were GONE, sure, but most non-elite teams were pretty bunched up. This was a straightforward leg with only one checkpoint and a short portage over the narrow part of Peddock’s Island. We hit the transition area (TA 1 – paddle to bike) with a bunch of other teams.

Bike – Wompatuck State Park: 22 miles (2 hours, 4 minutes)

Our transition was pretty good (11 minutes) and we left the transition area with Darby’s team. The road race to Wompatuck State Park had begun. Personally, I was thrilled we were there with Darby and his team – the guy is a great racer and to me this meant we were doing really well! We decided towing was in order, and Dave deployed his tow line. With one pendulum swing and it was quickly wrapping around the rear axle (fortunately on the non-drive train side!). Not so good. This took a couple minutes to fix as Dave hunched over his bike uttering some…things. We considered ourselves lucky it didn’t trash his drive train. But…Darby et al were long gone. We finally got moving again and we did well in Wompatuck State Park, where the MTB’ing was. Lots of teams seemed to bunch up here – our mountain biking wasn’t as strong as some other teams. But no one really put a lot of time into us, either. We saw Darby’s team all over the place – cat and mouse had begun with those guys, and would continue.

This is where our special calls came into play. Sometimes it is hard to know if your teammates are with you while mountain biking. Turning and looking back can be treacherous, at best, in technical terrain. So, on our only training outing, we somehow came up with the idea to each choose animal calls. I was an owl. Dave, a dog. Jen, a hawk. By doing our animal calls we knew we were all there. Incredibly silly? Yes. Kind of embarrassing? Definitely. But strangely effective.

Somewhere in here, at Wompatuck, something went wrong with Dave’s saddle. Very wrong. It took on a new angle, a very uncomfortable angle, the front of the saddle pointed up at a more or less 45 degree angle. Dave’s ability to procreate may be permanently compromised. His deep bark quickly transformed into a puppy’s yelp. But I must say that we didn’t lose any time fixing that thing, no way. Dave took one for the team, and onward we pressed!

Darby and crew left TA4 a few minutes ahead of us. Then there was an all male team that we started seeing everywhere, too, for the remainder of the race

Paddle 2 – Hull to South end of Quincy Beach: 8 miles (2 hours, 25 minutes)

It was during this leg that the two teams we were jockeying with received their monikers. Nemesis 1 (Darby’s team) and Nemesis 2 (all-male team). N1 and N2 for short. All in good fun, it was non-stop cat and mouse with these teams for the rest of the race.

During this paddle section we had to navigate south of a couple small islands – Sheep Island and then the “Piglets,” a small, seagull-crap covered rock protrusion sticking out of the harbor. Here we encountered some fisherman anchored who gave us all questioning looks and who I doubt understood when we tried to explain what the hell we were doing.

There were around 4 teams following us at this point, trusting our navigation more than their own, apparently. Hard to drop them in open water!

But where was N1? They hadn’t left TA2 that far ahead of us. We finally got to Quincy Beach, at the mandatory portage over the road to an inlet on the other side.

Portage from Hell
It was here we encountered for the first time the attempt to portage this damn kayak while in something less than a well-rested state. And it was ugly, my friends. We had so much extra water and Gatorade that the thing weighed about a million pounds. At least. And there is no good way to carry these things. We had to cross over Route 3 at a specified crosswalk. After standing around for 10 minutes waiting for the thing to give us a “walk” signal, we had all of 3 seconds to actually cross the street (with the million-pound kayak) before the little man turned red again and the traffic started flowing. Who’d have thought it would be that hard to get the boat across two lanes of road relatively quickly? It was virtually impossible, it turns out. Nevertheless, we survived, completed the short portage to the other side of Route 3 and we were back in the water for a few minute paddle to TA3.

We hit TA3…N1 was not there yet! Nor was N2! They showed up soon enough. We expected that we would put on a strong showing in the next section, dropping many less-strong running teams, but suspected the Nemesis teams would be right there.

Trek (plus ropes) – Blue Hills: 19 miles (6 hours, 9 minutes)

To Blue Hills
A bizarre road run got us to Blue Hills. This is where the inline skating must have originally been planned (they eliminated the skating for safety reasons a couple weeks before the race). Running in suburbia with backpacks, race bibs, etc, got us a lot of looks. Most viewed us as a bizarre curiosity, but those that knew what we were doing honked, clapped, yelled, and cheered. Very awesome.

Rappelling / Zip Line
The first thing we did there was the ropes work. Rappelling was straightforward, but then we got a surprise – a zip line. (1) Clip in using a couple runners to your harness. (2) Jump off cliff. Pretty straightforward. Dave, always one to amuse us by orchestrating mechanical difficulties with his gear, managed to relinquish his sunglasses during the leap, which somehow got stuck in between the carabiners and zipline as he was zipping along. How this transpired, and how they emerged unscathed, I do not know. But they stopped him well short of his destination (that is, the bottom of the zipline). Thus, he had to pull himself along a bit.

The Trek
For a decent part of the road run and now on decent trails, Dave was towing my slow butt. Sure, I wish I was faster, but the deal here is that whatever needs to be done to get the team across the finish line faster, that’s what happens. You have to check your ego at the door.

Apart from a few minor navigational snafus, we did really well in there. In a couple cases it was like the Blair witch project – we kept being in the same place no matter where we thought we were going. We did have to take a 5+ minute detour at the far point of the trek to refill water – we were all dry and starting to suffer from dehydration. We were slowing down. Each checkpoint we’d lose another minute or two to team N1. Drat! We did also learn, however, that we were in 13th place overall, and maybe 3rd or 4th in the CoEd division. The water refill got us going again.

We passed N2 with around 50 yards to go to the transition area, over six hours after starting the trekking section and traveling 19 miles (ok, a little more than 19…) on foot.

By the time we hit the kayaks for the final section, I was hurting. These two speed demons had crushed me. I was bonking mildly, de-electrolyted, and dehydrated. And it was here that I found the can of Pringles, oh salty, salty, Pringles, that I had staged. I tried to share them, but Dave and Jen took very little and seemed to be insisting that I finish them. Which I did. In retrospect I learned that Dave ate nearly half the can. No matter, it was enough to get me going as primary navigator and kayak steerer again. At least I wouldn’t need my legs anymore (ha!).

N1 cleared out less than 10 minutes before we did. N2 was right behind us. It was dark, cold, and raining now. Time for the final push to the finish.

Paddle 2 – Quincy Beach to Fan Pier: 8 miles (3 Hours)

Son of Portage from Hell
Yep, the tidal gates under Route 3 were tempting. It was slack tide. We could have made it. But we didn’t – against the rules. Once again, we were hurting bad. N2, probably encumbered by less water and endowed with more overall muscle power, caught us. It being low tide, we got to portage extra-far to actually reach the water. There is a 10 foot tide in Boston Harbor – not insignificant!

N1 was nowhere to be seen. They weren’t that far in front of us! How could this be possible?!?

Quincy Beach to Thompson Island
N2 seemed to be stuck in a navigational quandary as we paddled away, as they stayed on the beach a long time consulting their maps (at least that’s what it looked like). It got to the point that we couldn’t even see them behind us. They caught us – out of the blue – about an hour later at the bridge out to Long Island. Lucky for us, it looked like they were re-consulting their maps. We was sure of our position, though, and we pressed onward. Coming around Thompson Island a boat was pulling up along side us. Another race boat. Could it be? Yes, it was. N1. Neck and neck, we were. Again. Let the pain begin.

We both gunned for the checkpoint, 20 minutes’ or so paddle on the north side of Thompson Island. Shultis from N1 and me from our team jumped out of the boats when we hit the beach. She reached the passport control before I did. Our friend, Brenda Smith, was manning the PC. The differential was small enough that we pretty much hit the water at the same time.

Thompson Island to Finish
We were back in the water almost simultaneous with N1, and we were off. At this point, I’ll admit, there was some discussion internally in our boat about which way we should be headed. I was steering, so I got to go the way I wanted. N1 seemed to be in concurrence. We settled in ~30 yards behind them, and there we stayed, paddling hard.

30 minutes later we rounded Castle Island and headed down the piers towards the finish. Probably not more than 30 minutes to go at this point. We were tired, the weather was miserable (raining, windy, and cold), our butts hurt from almost 28 miles of paddling on hard plastic seats, and we were really ready to be done with the friggin’ race. And we’re trying to hang on to Darby’s team – our Nemesis throughout the race – in the sprint finish from hell.

And then it happened. Dave and I, for some reason, looked back over our shoulders at the same time. The race melted away, our pain dissipated. Our entire existence was dominated by what we saw. There it was.


In white letters across the black hull of a ship of proportions hitherto unencountered in my life. This shipping vessel, the largest man-made vehicle I’ve ever seen so close, was moving fast. Real fast. And it was only 50 yards to our starboard. It was running totally silent. The Death Star. When it came up parallel (ok, it was parallel for a while, it was so huge) it blew it’s fog horn, much like trucks do when you’re a kid in a school bus. Then it was gone. Just like that. We had survived. Survived an encounter with URANUS in our 3-man cobra kayak.

We hadn’t really finished hooting and hollering about the total awesomeness of that, something which could not be compared to, when we heard something up and to our left. Yes, we were right on final for Logan. The fog made for an unbelievable sight as the airliner passed directly over our heads a couple hundred meters from its touchdown. We could see the wingtip vortices whipping off the wingtips. It was deafening. The shouts of delight from all of us continued, though drowned out by the engines.

Then, we remembered that we were, in fact, racing, and we hunkered down for the finish.

Grandson of Portage from Hell

Darby’s team hit the dock 50 meters in front of us. They had just gotten their boat out when we pulled up alongside. We had a plan – we’d all jump out. Jen would dump out all containers of fluid (of which we had a few too many) and take all the gear. Dave and I would carry the boat.

The first thing that happened when I jumped out of the boat was that both legs cramped bad. I hit the dock hard and was completely out of action. Locked straight, I could not stretch, bend, or move my legs. Nor could I get up. As I lay there I saw Shultis and Bob of N1 fall off the second level of the dock – a good 4 feet higher – down to my level. That looked bad, but I had my own problems. As I lay there I was in my own little world of uselessness and pain, I was unscrewing water bottles and Camelbak bladder containers and dumping out all the liquid on the dock. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Dave was somehow infused with the strength of several oxen and dragged the kayak out single-handedly, flipped it to dump out the water, and got it up to the second level of the dock. I lay there feeling bad, but impressed!

Finally I got my act together and we charged ahead for the 200 meter portage. The kayak was practically feathery without gear and water in it.

We crossed the finish line about 2 ½ minutes behind N1, in a total time of 16 hours, 55 minutes, 18 seconds. Pretty damn close for a 17-hour race! At that point we thought we had third but it turned out the 1st place CoEd team was actually an elite-registered team, giving N1 and Dirty Water the 1-2 in the CoEd category, and 11-12 overall. Way to go, Boston teams!! N2 finished around 10 minutes behind us for 2nd place in the all-male division.

Our focus, training, and teamwork really paid off, and we had a fantastic race! The next week we treated ourselves to a feast of meat and BBQ at Red Bones, which is quickly becoming our post-race celebration meal location of choice, worth every moment of suffering out on the course!

My teammates were incredible – outstanding athletes, wonderful people, and super teammates. It was an honor and pleasure to race with them and hopefully the team will reunite for some more AR excitement in the future.

Sean Hartman
Cambridge, MA