Team Adventure Medical Kits planned to get an early start to the 2016 schedule with a stop at the first ARWS event of the year. The Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge is new to the world series, but is in its 2nd year after debuting in 2014. The team planned to use the race as an opportunity to secure entry to the World Championships in Australia this November, develop team synergy as a new teammate was added to the team, and have a fun time exploring a new part of the world.
The race proved to accomplish all 3 of our goals and acted as a self-guided speed sightseeing tour as we ran, biked, and paddled over 600 km (375 miles) throughout the Chiquibul National Park, visiting the area’s highlights of 3,000-year-old Mayan ruins, amazing limestone caves, and stunning waterfalls.
We started on Saturday with a hot and fast road run down the Western Highway from our host hotel at Cahal Pech Resort and neighboring Cahal Pech Mayan ruins. We then paddled in the crystal clear and fast moving Mopan River from the Guatemalan border to San Ignacio, Belize with stops at the Xuantunich and Actuncan ruins to stretch our legs.
The price for the fast and hot day was paid during the first night on the bikes. Shortly after visiting the ruins at El Pilar and taking a hand cranked ferry at Spanish Lookout, cramping, fatigue, and vomiting began to take hold. Backpack weight was redistributed, leg massages were given, hills that should have been ridden were hiked, electrolytes were consumed, and tow lines were used. Through the pain and sweat we still enjoyed visiting Rock Falls under the full moon and exploring Rio Frio Cave.
We arrived to the end of the 160 km bike in Las Cuevas in need of some TLC. Thanks to the volunteers at this TA, we were treated to hot rice and beans and 4 beds in a bug free cabin.
After a 90 min kip, we began the longest trek of the race as the sun rose on Day 2. We hiked a 13 hour, 53 km loop in the most remote and newly explored part of the Chiquibul National Forest.
Miles of mud walking and a few battles with ants in our pants brought us to the rim of the NoHoch Chen Sink Hole and a rappel off of a 325 foot karst wall.
We visited a giant Ceiba tree that would rival the Redwoods in Northern California. Just as Day 2’s sun was threatening to crack the team and our water stores were depleted, we traveled into Kabal Cave for a refreshing soak in the cave’s river.
Kabal was just discovered in the 1980s and is reputedly the largest cave in the Western Hemisphere. As we trekked out of the remote jungle we pondered how many features were yet to be discovered.
After swapping our muddy trekking shoes for bike shoes, we jumped on our bikes for a fast and mostly paved ride to the top of the Caracol ruins. Although night had fallen by the time we arrived to this massive ruin, the full moon’s light was bright enough for us to enjoy the sights, and we enjoyed our dinner of cold Ramen noodles at the top of the ruin as we pictured what activities took place at Caracol thousands of years ago.
After more rice and beans back at the Las Cuevas TA, we hit the sack hard for a 3 hour sleep. We awoke to learn that no other teams were within 6 hours of us. It would take a big mistake to lose our lead now.
Excited to get our packrafts unto the Monkey Tail Branch of the Raspaculo River we trekked in darkness and arrived at the river for sunrise of Day 3. No more than 200 meters into this 40 km paddle we tore a 4-5 inch hole into one of our packrafts. WOW! We thought the Alpackas were indestructible! After surviving hundreds of miles in a previous race though the Alaskan backcountry, we were shocked the Monkey Tail had done the Gnu in! The sun wasn’t shining over head yet so out came our SOL Fire Starter kit to make a fire to dry out the raft and attempt to patch the hole. Making a fire in the jungle is probably one of the hardest things we did in Belize, but teamwork, many tinders and lots of blowing got things going. Jarad took charge with the patching, and we were back paddling after 60 minutes. The river was quite low and very rocky. Even without our compromised boat this section required lots of hiking, wading, and combat paddling. Combat paddling involves many unorthodox techniques. Maybe we will write a post on them later. Rob essentially combat paddled his now leaky 2-person packraft solo down the river, and I paddled the good 2-person packraft picking up Jarad and Mari for a few shorts trips in deep water here and there, but they mostly walked along the slippery rocky shore for hours. After 1 more stop to add another patch to the tear we finally reached the Challilo Lake. Rob continued to paddle the leaky boat while being towed by our boat. He spent more time blowing up the boat by mouth instead of paddling. Jarad and I paddled our boat while Mari sat backwards in the middle, not paddling as the boats are too small for 3 to paddle efficiently. After 3 more stops to add patches (for a total of 5 stops) we made it to the dam and portaged to a short and dark class 1-2 paddle down the Macal River into TA. We made it!!! Teamwork and grit got us through that one.
We quickly transitioned and were back on our bikes for a relentlessly hilly ride through the night. After climbing along Pine Ridge on the Devil’s Drive it became necessary for us to have a 90 minute sleep on the side of the trail in our SOL Emergency Bivvys. Even with our Ben’s InvisiNet Headnets on, we didn’t have the most pleasant rest. After a visit to the highest point of the course at the 929 meter Cooma Cairn Fire Lookout Tower, we arrived at Hidden Valley Inn where we were welcomed with cookies, watermelon, and coffee just as the sun rose.
Leaving the comforts of the inn, we visited the highlights of Hidden Valley’s property, including Tiger Creek Falls, Bull’s Point Overlook, Butterfly Falls, and 1,000 Foot Falls overlook.
The ride finished with a stop at Barton Creek Cave to paddle canoes 900 meters into the cave to grab another checkpoint.
Jarad treated us all to a massive lunch at Mike’s Place before we headed out on a hot 20 km slog to the Roaring River and our final paddling stage.
We packrafted from the ATM Cave down to the Roaring River Golf Course. We had to do the whole paddle in the dark as we started just after the sun set, but the good news is that Erik from the Yogaslackers let us borrow one of his boats for the paddle so we didn’t have to deal with our leaky one. Thanks, Erik!!
Sleep monsters were battled with stories, entertaining songs, bright lights, and more fun combat paddling. This river had much more water in it than Monkey Tail, and we spent 95% of the time in the boats. We took out at Paul’s golf course. We needed sleep desperately, but with a simple 65 km MTB ride between us and real beds and real relaxation we pushed on. After a few hours of ridiculous singing and impersonations we amazingly managed to stay awake though Night 4 without sleep and crossed the finish line of the Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge at 3:40am in first place and secured our ticket to worlds in November.
The Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge is organized by the enthusiastic and passionate husband and wife team of Doug and Julia Crytzer and their company American Adventure Sports. They have spent the last 5 years building relationships in Belize which enabled the racecourse to visit some amazing locations. Much credit for this event must also be given to the staff and rangers of the Chiquibul National Park and Friends for Conservation and Development who manage the land and have maintained the unique environment in pristine condition.
A huge thanks to my teammates Mari Chandler, Rob Preston, and Jarad Kohler. Without them I would be still cramping in the jungle. Also thanks to Aaron Johnson at www.ajphoto.net for producing all the race photos and videos, my mom Thomasine Peter, and Andrew Peterson for race support and keeping everyone updated back home while we raced. And none of this would be possible without the support from the following: Adventure Medical Kits, Survive Outdoors Longer, Champion System, Darn Tough, Leki, Julbo, Light & Motion, Nordenmark, Out There, Zealios, Feed the Machine, ProBar, and Gu Energy.
Stay tuned for our next race coming up fast - GODZone New Zealand on April 2!