2015 Tsali Adventure Triathlon Report

The Tsali Adventure Triathlon is a multi-sport race that is hosted in the Tsali Recreation Area near Bryson City, NC. The race starts with a 3 mile paddle on Fontana Lake that begins at the Tsali Boat Ramp and then circumnavigates Bear Island and back to the Tsali Boat Ramp. The next stage of the race is a 5 mile run on the Tsali Right Loop First Alternate single track trail. The last stage of the race is a 13 mile mountain bike course on Tsali’s Mouse Branch and Thompson single track trails. The race supports MedicForce.


This year the race was postponed in early October due to the hurricane that passed through the area the weekend the event was scheduled. Race organizers rescheduled the race for Saturday, November 14, 2015. The day turned out to be a nice mild, sunny day for the race!

My wife, Jennifer, and I decided to give this race a try for our first ever team triathlon together. I did the paddle & bike stages and Jen did the running stage of the race.

The race start was an exciting one for sure with the LeMons style 100 yard dash run down the boat ramp to our boats to launch for the paddle stage! The race start was divided into two groups. The individual triathletes started first and the teams started in the second heat. The legendary Chris Hipgrave (Fellow BRO Teammate) was there racing with another team and we always share a good comradery with each other. So naturally I had to give him a little smack talk when he started whining about the LeMons start format. I threw down the gauntlet to say I would roast him in the dash to our boats; which I did with brilliant success [Because I knew I could not touch him on his EPIC surf ski boat with me in my Jackson Kayak Karma Unlimited when we got on the water]. I was the first person to get in my boat and start paddling. Got to celebrate the small victories!


Once we were on the water racing Hipgrave smoked us all, as expected, before we even made it to the first buoy. The 3 mile paddle went very well for me considering all the other much faster composite and longer boats I was racing against in this flat water race. I kept a good pace and felt strong throughout the paddle around the island and back. Once I hit land back at the boat ramp I had to run back up the hill to the transition zone to go through the finish gate to tag Jen to start the run stage.


Once I made the tag Jen was off to run her five miles and I was sucking wind from the run uphill. I caught my breath and said a quick prayer for Jen to have a safe race run. As Jen was running the Right Loop race course I headed to the car to load my boat and change from my paddling gear to my biking gear. Jen said the run was one of the tougher trail runs she has done due to the heavy leaf cover and not being sure about footing on the uneven terrain.


I sat upon my Cannondale F-29 poised ready to start the bike stage when Jen came running down the hill to make the tag in the transition zone. She came through the finish gate looking weary from the long run, but greeted me with some encouraging words to finish well. Then I was off heading up the road to start Mouse Branch Loop with some cheers from fellow racers hanging out in the transition zone.

The bike race course was originally scheduled to be on the 12 mile Left Loop of the Tsali trails on the October date. I trained on Left Loop on the Sunday of the NOC Guest Appreciation Festival in September while I was in the area and I was feeling good about the course. However due to the race reschedule in November the bike race course had to be switched to the Mouse Branch and Thompson loops. I had not ridden the Mouse Branch loop in years and I had never ridden the Thompson loop. I was a little nervous going into this race course blind and having to ride the trails in heavy leaf cover made it rather slippery.

I turned onto the Mouse Branch loop to ride in the opposite direction of the typical suggested travel route as directed by race officials. It turns out that riding Mouse Branch backwards is the hardest route you can ride at the Tsali trails! This Mouse Branch route was not the typical Tsali flow I am use to on the Right and Left loops. There seemed to be a lot of short steep climbs with not much relief in the downhill sections. I was worn out by the time I finished Mouse Branch loop and I still had to ride Thompson loop!

I made the turn onto Thompson loop feeling drained and had to reassure myself I could get this done. Thankfully Thompson was much flowier in the typical suggested travel route. I had to stop and take a few short breaks during this loop after being gassed from the Mouse Branch loop. The long climb up an old forest road toward the end was brutally tough in my worn down condition. I made it to the top of that final climb to be rewarded with a long downhill single track trail back to the parking lot and to the finish line.


Overall this race was a tough one for sure with trail conditions being leaf covered for the run and bike stages, but Jen and I gave it our best and we were happy to finish our first team triathlon together!

Here were our split times for each leg of the race:
3 mile paddle – 38:47
5 mile run – 59:54
13 mile mountain bike – 2:04:32

For a total time of 3:43:13 which placed us in 7th of the mixed team division and 12th overall in the team results.

Full race results can be found at:

For more photos check out my photos essay at:

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