For the past few months, I’ve been training and preparing for the AXS Moab Finale, a 100 mile adventure race in Moab, UT. My training has basically consisted of lots of running and biking in all of the places the bus has brought us.
Now after weeks and weeks of training, we have made it to Moab and are taking a few days to rest before the race on Saturday. I feel like I’m in great shape and should be able to cover the miles no problem. The only wildcard left in my race preparation is navigation. A major component of any AXS race is finding your own route from point to point. The night before the race, the organizers of the event will give us a list of map coordinates representing checkpoints that we have to reach via bike, foot, or kayak. We’re responsible for charting those points on a map and choosing our own route between them. Based on what I’ve heard about the race, this is the most challenging aspect of staying on pace during the course of the event.
Navigating in the backcountry is not something that’s totally new to me. Alyssa and I have both spent an extensive amount of time running, hiking, and backpacking in some pretty remote places around the west. One thing that makes Moab and challenge is the lack of notable landmarks. Pinpointing your position in the heart of the Rockies often is no challenge because it’s easy to locate specific land masses like peaks, rivers, or lakes. In the middle of Moab’s desert, everything tends to look the same and when the sun goes down, that problem increases tenfold.
Luckily, my partner Sam and I both have great tools for navigation, our GPS watches. I carry a Suunto Ambit3 Peak with me on all of my outdoor excursions. Using GPS and a built in barometer, the watch tracks my distances traveled and elevation gained and lost. This is an indispensable tool for backcountry navigation and we’ll rely on it heavily during the race.
Having not done too much navigation with my watch, Alyssa suggested that we try to find some local geocaches to test out its accuracy. Alyssa has been reading a lot about the ancestral people of the region and was super excited to find a geocache stashed near a cliff dwelling just outside of town. I imported the coordinates into my watch and we drove the bus to the nearest trailhead marked on the map near that point.
From the trailhead we followed the trail for about 100 yards before jumping off and blazing our own trail through the brush. After a quick creek crossing, we were cruising through more brush with about a mile of cross country running to go before we reached the point. We covered the distance easily while Hilde unsuccessfully tried to catch a couple of cotton tails.
With about 0.10 miles to go, my watch made a little victory chime to let me know that we were close. Not knowing what to expect, I started to look up at the rocks and around the area for signs of any aging ruins. I walked right to the 0.00 mile marker that my watch indicated and spotted the dwelling just as Alyssa ran up by me. “Did you find it?” she asked. “Yep,” I said, “it’s right here.” I pointed to the “dwelling” and we both started laughing. We had been pranked! All the way out here, a mile from the trail, someone had built a small diorama of a cliff dwelling into a small alcove in the rock. Definitely not what we expected, but a welcome surprise.
We stayed for a few minutes to find the geocache and write our names in the little booklet before heading out again in a larger loop back to the trailhead. The watch performed admirably bringing us within 20 feet of the cache. Doing this little test was a great idea and makes me feel a lot more confident about our navigation during the race.