It’s called an Adventure Race. This one in particular is called The Valhalla Pure Outdoor Adventure Race. Sounds interesting enough one would suppose based on the titles main components.
Everyone knows what a race is. Two or more people start at a certain location and try to get to the other end of the set course before any other competitors do. If they do so, they win. If they don’t, they lose. Simple. We know this. Races are enjoyable and everyone loves to join in on a race whether it’s running, or driving, or milk drinking.
The latter part of the equation ‘adventure,’ appears to be another obvious term, at least on the surface. Adventure means fun, excitement, new experiences, with perhaps some panic and anxiety mixed in. You never know what to expect when an adventure is afoot but that’s the whole allure of the adventure.
The sum of these products equal an Adventure Race.
This is what a person can choose to compete it in. This is what a person can pay $140 to join. This is what a person can drive 20 hours round trip to find out if they have what it takes. This is what a person could train and think and prepare for, for months in advance believing that they are ready to tackle it. This is what two of my friends and myself, chose to do.
In the aftermath of our adventure race one thing can be said definitively: the name, “Adventure Race,” might sell the event a tad short. A rundown of how the race transpired may help validate this point.
7am registration starts and maps are handed out.
Our team shows up ready. We are equipped with supplies from the mandatory gear list that was sent out to each team. We have nourished ourselves with a plentiful amount of carbs, protein, and H2O leading up to the announcement of “GO!” We are appropriately amped up and tied down with bouts and waves of fear, confidence, nerves, arrogance, and plain old uncertainty. All feelings are justified. We trained to the max over the summer. We tried to visualize every possible outcome but really have no idea what to expect. Today all we have is one another – our team and our brotherhood.
No girlfriends, no family, no tagalongs that didn’t have enough
balls time to participate
have accompanied us. We know they all wish us well and want us to succeed but we also know that no amount of good intentions,gracious thoughts, or encouraging words will help us today. It’s all on us. And truthfully, we have no idea what this kind of ‘adventure’ will really entail.
The race has been laid out and promoted on websites and by organizers as such: 30 kilometre bike ride, 15 kilometre run/hike, and 12 kilometre canoe paddle. Navigation will be crucial, it is explained, as each team/participant has only eight hours to clock a finish time. These are the details we have been told and this is what we have to base our expectations of the ‘adventure’ on.
So 9:30am creeps up, we have a half hour before surging across the start line. Muscles are being stretched, hydrating devices are being filled, opposing teams are being sized up and felt out. The start can’t come soon enough. There has been contemplation and speculation for too long. Now it’s time to let the imagination rest and the muscles, heart and brain take over.
Then, in the blink of an eye we are racing.
Immediately, probably within the first minute our team of three races out to the front. We entertained the idea of possibly winning this thing a handful of times but we also had to believe that there would be more hardened and properly prepared racers. Regardless of these possible veterans, our trio is a physically fit unit that isn’t going to just let another team steal the victory. If it’s for the taking we will gladly fight for first place honours. This attitude has gotten us out to a lead, and although it’s probably too soon to even mention at this point, it’s a lead nonetheless.
At this early stage we, and every other racer, are unaware that this bike ride starts lakeside (the lowest altitude in the surrounding area) and with hardly five minutes of flat ground riding will begin the ascent to the peak of a mountain. Not a hill, a mountain.
Think about that hill in your town that you try to avoid riding up if possible because the commute on a bike takes more gusto than you are generally willing to give. That hill probably takes you about 10 minutes to ride up. This will take three hours. We don’t know this yet, but it’s quite important…and that’s a drastic understatement. Because three hours is one-hundred and eighty minutes which is 10,800 seconds. Seems like a trivial and irrelevant number doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s not because at 60 excruciating revolutions a minute this means that there will be 10,800 times that each one of us reaches down inside ourselves once more to push those wheels further. And actually, it’s more like double that number because its takes two strokes, one from each leg, to complete the cycle. So over 20 thousand times we’ll agonizingly grunt our way to the top of the mountain.
Sweat perspires from every pore on the way up this mountain, making it appear as if a steady downpour is drenching us. There is no downpour, but we’re soaked. The legs begin to go unbelievably numb but yet throb at the same time, becoming so weak that it’s no longer a matter of energy but a threshold for pain. Sunglasses are a hindrance when they are on because they are so drenched with sweat that they are impossible to see through and a hindrance when they are off because it is 30 degrees Celsius out here and the sun is blindly reflecting off everything in sight. We aren’t breathing anymore, but gasping. Our lungs are sucking air in as hard and fast as they can but the amount of air being inhaled isn’t enough to sustain a steady and healthy breathe so those same lungs are shooting the air back out just as rapidly as it is rushed in. This happens so more air can be desperately sucked down only to once again be insufficient and vanished quickly. Gasp, exhale, gasp, exhale – repeat until summit is reached.
It is important to note here that we are not only relying on our bodies on this uphill battle either. No, as mentioned above, maps have been distributed to every team and participant. Maps that seem simple enough to read when sitting at a picnic table pre-race, alert and rested, equipped with a compass and hi-lighter to mark out our route. Maps that seemed straightforward when there weren’t three diverging paths facing us. Maps that seem to exclude many logging roads, ATV trails, hiking paths, and animal passageways that are suddenly springing up every 50 yards without any indication of such on the trusty papers. Suddenly our maps appear more like directions drawn by my three year old nephew and less like failsafe navigation tools.
We are not the only ones in the front of the pack making our way to the top. Two experienced solo riders have been within shouting distance for most of the way up this increasingly dreadful mountain. There is the bona fide Iron Woman Sarah, who is only months removed from tearing her Achilles and decided this would be a good gut check to find out if her injured body can still hold up to the punishment. Apparently it can because Sarah has barely missed a beat and just slightly trails us on the way up. Sarah would be in the 36 hour race this weekend rather than the 8 hour had the injury not derailed her plans.
Then there is the other solo rider, Wade. Unfortunately for Wade he has unknowingly became today’s nemesis. On the way up the mountain, about the halfway point, we all stopped and gathered together in the middle of the path trying to decide if our failsafe map lead us astray. We hum and ha and shoot our hunches at one another hoping we can come to a definite conclusion, though one really doesn’t exist. Then Wade pipes up, voicing his displeasure in the fact that he followed our lead on a particular fork in the road, moaning “geez, it was the other way after that second checkpoint, I shouldn’t of followed you guys” with a pathetic whine. We all glance at one another knowing exactly what the other is thinking. We have been friends for years now and we all know exactly when someone has submitted an unredeemable comment or action, and Wade just has. We never asked or encouraged him to follow us and we are only out here on this mountain for some fun, friendly competition, and experience like never before. But Wade has tried to suck the joy out of the woods with this nag, leading to our one team member, Ryan, to wittingly and frankly remark “we gotta beat him. He’s Newman, and I’m Jerry.” Quite appropriately this would make our other friend and teammate Tim into Kramer, Sarah-Elaine, and myself, regrettably, Costanza.
My distinction as George is significant. Specifically because it classifies me as the team’s weak link, much like the short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man that once ate an éclair out a garbage, knocked over elders and children as he was fleeing from a fire, and pretended to be disabled for the sake of securing employment. I am Costanza. This is not to say that I don’t deserve to be on this team or this mountain on a scorching late summer day using every ounce of intestinal fortitude I have. No, no. I trained, I worked, I am moderately athletic, I never quit and I am an essential part of this team, much like George was to the coffee shop quartet. But every team has the weak link. It is just a fact. Like gravity, aging, and morning wood. On any team, one person has to be, at least slightly, subpar compared to the rest of their teammates. This is the role I occupy. So when my team is pounding upward through rocks and dirt and potholes I get the caboose’s view of Tim’s spandex clad behind – that is if I am even lucky (or unlucky) enough to be in close enough proximity to garner a decent look.
Now I am not constantly lagging behind and being cast as a burden to my ready to break free team. I do sometimes lead. I do sometimes have valuable advice and pushes to offer. But in general I am the trailer and this is fine, I am used to it, but it definitely wears me out quicker than my partners. When one has the shadow’s perspective it is incentive to push harder which wears one out faster, and unfortunately for me, the name of today’s game is stamina. Sprints will get me in trouble. Sprints will render me exhausted. Sprints will find me a grave on this mountain. But I have to push. The rules state that team members have to be within 100 metres of one another at all times. I will not slow us down and let us lose. If we do lose because of me it will be because my heart exploded from trying too hard, not because we got beat across the finish line due to not trying hard enough.
The climb ends, finally. We snap a picture on a mobile phone from the top so that the race organizers can see proof that we made it there. The view is picturesque and spectacular. Spectacular enough that we take all of two minutes to enjoy while we chug down fluids before starting the grand ride down.
It took nearly three hours to climb to the top – it will take barely thirty minutes to descend to the bottom. That may sound pleasant, as if the ride down will be a relaxing coast that allows for energy restoration while gliding through a cool breeze. Not today. I am now beginning to realize that nothing today will be easy, because the ride down is a hand-clenching, break-squealing, tire-skidding, over the handlebars, sit on the back tire, rock, ash, and cliff recipe for disaster. Our team has ridden some wild downhill before, but never in a race scenario and quite honestly never of this difficulty.
This may be the juncture in the race where my Costanza stature is most crucial. For one, I have no insatiable craving for speed. Second, I never take risks on my bike for the pure thrill. Third, I have always ridden a hard tail and my bike offers no support for bouncing down a mountain. So now I’m out of my element, out of practice, and ill-equipped. The reassuring thing about treacherous downhill riding, however, is that everyone will take their lumps. For instance, The Iron Woman takes two vicious spills that are not more than a minute apart. My teammates witness the initial show and I was the audience for the encore. They describe a Superman like flight on her first crash and I watch her come over the front of her bike so fast that when she hits the unforgiving ground her back tire comes full circle and smacks her in the back of the head. Neither time does she even acknowledge our panicked questions regarding her health and safety. Instead she stands up, gives a chuckle about being a screw-up and rides on before the dust has even settled amongst the wreckage. I realize now that the moniker Iron Woman is not appropriate because she has told us she raced in Iron Woman competitions, but simply because that kind of tumble with nary a complaint is about as Iron Woman as it gets.
I also take a heart-pounding-could-have-been-a-heck-of-a-lot-worse tumble. While riding faster downhill than I have probably ever ventured in my life, the single track suddenly becomes much more steep and narrow. I tense up a bit, pull this way and that, trying to maintain control, but it is not meant to be. My front tire goes left, my back tire goes right. Then the longest second I can ever remember happening to me occurs; my right leg slams into my handle bars and gets tangled between the bars and my front tire, my seat pushes forward and up into the small of my back so that I am being thrust into the air by my bike, I look down to the cliff on my left and fearfully try to keep my aerodynamic direction in a linear motion. Then that second later I find myself face down, with my bike on top of me. When I lift my head I am staring at menacingly thick tree trunk merely six inches away. Had I been a foot further ahead when my tires and skills went awry this ill-placed pine would be winning a battle that my teeth and nose never signed up for. Until this inevitable meeting with the ground I had been attempting to ride downhill beyond my limits, but now thanks to a timely and extremely close call I will use this as a reminder that I am a better teammate if I can ride a bike downhill slowly than if I can’t ride it all.
My teammates do not reach our bottom checkpoint unscathed either. Ryan, a very physically suited and confident downhill rider takes a few notable spills and has the scrapes to prove it, while Tim finishes the descent catastrophe free. It seems our last day of group training was when his number was called because his forehead met a low hanging branch that day and he managed a barrel roll over a no-business-being-there boulder. Getting tossed is a guarantee in this sport, but you just never know what day will bring the unwanted calamity.
Newman actually finds the most trouble on the way down as he loses a peddle and is forced to waste time by backtracking through the brush in order to find the crucial part. This tragedy leads us to express a few sincere and heartfelt comments along the lines of “Well that’s too bad. Hopefully it turns out okay for poor Wade.” Really, it was a blessing in disguise we decide, because now Wade was quite a distance behind us and he wouldn’t have to be faced with the challenge of whether or not to follow us. Only his instincts to trust now, probably the best for Newman.
Then something happened. We made it down. Checkpoint!
This is a wonderful moment. It means two things. One, that we are done what we presume was the most gruelling leg of the race, and two, that it’s finally time for a quick rest.
Here we get to stop and transition for the next quest: running/trekking.
We are in first place at this point and there is no time for celebratory pats on the back for what we accomplished or any reminiscing about the trials and tribulations along the way. We have to keep advancing. But we will not rush into the next phase before consuming as much Gatorade, tuna, nuts, and water as we possibly can. The only thing to hope for while swallowing mouthfuls of hastily chewed food is speedy digestion, knowing full well that it won’t be speedy enough. The race organizers all mill around, asking about how the mountain biking stage was, then keenly waiting for stories about our exploits. A cameraman hovers around getting shots of what he thinks will best depict the simultaneous fun and agony that is this adventure race. We answer questions but offer very little. We are exhausted and beat up but it is way too early to submit to these facts so we just try to stay positive and keep one another’s spirits up. A few articles of clothing are swapped from the giant hockey bag that we prepared earlier in the day and we pack our knapsacks to ensure we have everything that we will need for the run. While toting a backpack was not much of a chore when riding a bike, the circumstances have drastically changed now. Carrying any extra weight on foot can take a serious toll on one’s legs and endurance. The idea is to pack light, but this is nearly impossible when you consider that this could be a two hour run in the 30 degree heat and we are already low on hydration thanks to a little bike ride we just partook in. In my pack I have two litres of water, a radio, a whistle, a hat, a phone, a can of tuna, some nuts, a compass, sunscreen and a knife. Ryan lugs a first aid kit. These packs are not light nor are they are conducive to stomping through trees and down hills. They flop and shift with every movement and cause unwanted perspiration. However, they are mandatory so they will be strapped on and hauled along.
We are told at this checkpoint (#3) that checkpoint #4 has been removed because it seems that the mapped out course is too long for most competitors to even come close to finishing. Instead we will now bypass checkpoint #4 and move directly to checkpoint #5 on the beach where the boats will be waiting for us. Sure, no problem. Our only small complaint is that we spent a good portion of time this morning at the map distribution seminar trying to figure out the best route from checkpoint #3 to checkpoint #4 to checkpoint #5 because we were made to believe this would be the most crucial navigation stretch of the entire race. Now we are trying to maintain our lead and find a completely new path to our next destination. Should be fun.
Our first place lead is usurped momentarily as The Iron Woman is the first to head off to the newly implemented coordinates. As our team stands around and struggles with the best direction to jaunt off, it dons on us that perhaps the best way there is the way of The Iron Woman.
“Hey Sarah!” I yell, “Wait up!” We are off again.
So now we’re running. This feels decidedly different. After nearly four hours sitting on and peddling a bike, the one foot after another motion compiled with landing on the hard ground is a very foreign sensation. Not necessarily bad, not necessarily good, but foreign. The one aspect of running that I have been looking forward to, as opposed to biking, is that there is not nearly as much danger involved. Running may take a bit more determination and may be less fun, but there is less thinking and attention to technique involved. If one zones out for a minute while running the consequences aren’t nearly as dire. Surely you wouldn’t want to roll an ankle, but the lack of speed and precision changes the stakes a great deal.
When it comes to the running part of the race, it was predicted that Tim, our team’s six foot three gazelle, would be the pace setter and a bitch to keep up with. He lives up to this prediction off the line, but probably within ten minutes and a couple hills behind us, his legs begin to cramp and we have to stop. Personally this is wonderful news. Not because I am happy that my teammate is in pain and could potentially not carry on, but rather because I am dying and just want to stop. So bad.
Ryan is our team medic as he has some useful and invaluable medicinal education under his belt. Right now his expertise is greatly appreciated because this means he can help Tim, and also because it means I can lie on the ground and pant while they are preoccupied. Ryan wraps Tim’s thighs with some bandages that are meant to either increase blood flow or decrease blood flow or inject him with steroids or turn his legs into robot parts. I’m not too sure. The only thing I really know is that I would have made love to the ground while Ryan was attending to Tim because the beauty of its stationary flatness is just plain divine.
After Tim’s legs have been properly cared for we sit atop a hill and stare down at the town’s outskirts which mesh in with the surrounding woods. Here we plot our plan of attack. We decide a route that will run along the outside of the residential area would serve us best, keeping us from getting too lost in the bush and still guiding us towards the shore we must reach.
So we push on. A few minutes and kilometres later we come to a roadside map for tourists to find their way to the local recreation areas. We are not tourists though. We are an adventure race team that uses sketchy maps and uncertain directions to find our way. We are one with the woods and need only our eyes, bodies, and instincts to guide out way…the tourist map is probably worth a gander though. You know, just to see if it’s accurate or not. A couple new residents to the town wander up and we ask them a few questions about the area. They mention that they are unfamiliar with the surroundings and ask what exactly we are doing out here donning team jerseys and appearing as if we are being stalked by a death.
“We are adventure racers” we explain proudly. They are very enthused by this and demonstrate their enthusiasm by telling us how hardcore and sweet we are. Unfortunately, I don’t really feel that hardcore or sweet as I stand in front of them trying not to either fall over or barf. But they are impressed nonetheless. They wish us luck, and we trek forward.
After a few minutes we come to a fork and stop momentarily. I am maybe ten yards behind and stop my gait. Something odd happens in my leg. In the muscle directly above my knee at the front of my thigh there is a sensation of spasms accompanied by violent cramps. It feels as though my right leg is about to burst. The pain is not what worries me. An injured limb is not what worries me. The only thought in my head is that I might let my teammates down. I might not have been cut out for this ‘adventure’ and because of it their best efforts and all their training will be wasted. They will have to go back and tell their families and friends that they did not get to finish the race because Kris (Costanza) just couldn’t hack it. I will have to tell everyone that asks, that our team was in first place but we could not carry on because I was too weak to finish. It’s only been ten seconds bent over clutching my leg and all these thoughts have run through my head. That’s how much this team means, that’s how much our goal means.
Ryan looks back, sees me and shouts “Kris you alright?” I say nothing.
He asks again, this time with a more concerned tone as Tim takes notice as well “Kris, you alright?” Once more I don’t respond. I hold my leg, stand rigid and stare down.
Ryan begins to walk over. “Kris!”
I reply finally with “something’s not right, my leg.”
Ryan asks me a few questions about what it feels like and where it hurts. I describe to him the details and he directs me to lie down and tells me which way he wants my body. Ryan then proceeds to apply pressure with his palm on the trouble area. He pushes with great force and I am biting my lip to keep from letting out any kind of agonizing moan or yelp. When Tim was fighting his cramps I thought about how it probably wasn’t that bad, even welcoming the time to rest. Now that I am the one squirming in pain I realize my lack of concern was clearly selfish. Perhaps the adventure race deities were summoning a lesson – the lesson being, “don’t be a dumbass, dumbass.”
After a couple minutes of Ryan moving my leg in various directions and testing the range of motions he tells me I should be okay. Then he tells me every time I feel that throbbing sensation to just apply pressure with my hand to the throbbing area and it will go away at least momentarily.
“I wish someone would have told me that in grade school when I hit puberty” I remark.
“I always preferred the waistband trick,” he replies. Touché.
Crisis averted and we’re back on track.
An Adventure Race – Part II, can be found under the category These Things I’ve Done.
Kris Kantrud is a freelance writer. If you have any questions, comments or complaints please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.