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Adventure Racing Revisited…

This is my version of the Adventure Race. Excerpts from this are recounted in this article by the Redoubt Reporter:


Ah, Adventure Racing.

Part Adventure, part Racing.

All Unmitigated Misery.

I’m kidding, of course. Some of it was mitigated. My point is, I had the chance to do some Adventure Racing a while back. And by “had the chance,” I mean my friend Yvonne forced me into it.

“Hey Mike, what are you doing the weekend after next?” She asked.

Before I could answer, she blurted, “That’s right! You’re going adventure racing. Get your stuff ready.”

Yvonne, who does a myriad of painful outdoor activities, such as running marathons and dog mushing, had done an Adventure Race before, but swore she’d never do it again. With that promising statistic, I hesitantly agreed to do it. But Yvonne has the tendency to get her way. I was in, whether I wanted to be or not.

The other member of our team was a very fit fellow with scads of outdoor experience named Clark. Clark climbs the Peninsula mountains with a frequency that would make mountain goats question his sanity. He sets a furious, steady pace, leaving most others in the dust. “Clark,” I believe, is just his civilian name; a far more appropriate moniker is “Quadzilla.”

The week before, the three of us met to go over recommended gear for the race, which would take approximately 12 hours for the fastest teams, and be comprised of mountain biking, hiking, and pack-rafting.

The gear list was intimidating.

The list recommended things like head nets – which I thought must imply there’d be a beekeeping leg of the race. Emergency blankets, flares, bear bells, whistles and glowsticks (obviously for impromptu raves), medical kit, wafflemaker, Space Station, fondue set… I can’t remember exactly what the list detailed, but we were all to provide and carry about the entire list. Luckily, I have experience as a sherpa.

Nearer to the actual race day, we got even better news; the 40 some odd mile race was going to begin AT MIDNIGHT FRIDAY. So, my Excitement Meter, which was already topping out, became absolutely pegged. Since nothing makes stumbling around in the woods more fun than doing it on no sleep and in the dark.

After driving up from the Kenai to a settlement near Palmer called Jonesville, which has the completely untrue distinction of being named after Jim Jones, we tried to get a nap in before the Midnight race start.

That proved impossible, as the Palmer recreationalists (Palmeranians?) enjoyed passing their time by discharging all manner of firearms into the woods. What we had envisioned as a tranquil, restful place turned out to be more like a Bad Day in Bosnia.

We met our fellow competitors and race organizers and received some elucidation regarding the course. People were ubiquitously nice and eager to get going. We apparently missed the memo about mandatory beards for serious adventure racers. Even the men had them. I’m kidding, of course. One interesting and great thing about adventure racing is that the most recognized dynamic is coed three-person teams. Like ours. This encourages strong and amazing women to compete hard, and quite often beat the tar out of those of us with a Y Chromosome.

In our case, Yvonne was our leader, as she was by far the most experienced. This was a perfect arrangement, as both Clark and I are used to taking orders from strong women; Clark having a teenage daughter, and me spending time with a strong-willed lady friend. Yvonne immediately poured over the course map, taking charge.

“We’ll take this road here, then make our way down to the river.” She said, pointing to a bundle of squiggles on the map.

Clark and I made thoughtful “hmmmm” sounds in vague agreement, and concentrated on growing our beards.

Soon, we mounted our bikes and assembled on the top of a hill. Thankfully, even near Midnight, the clear sky and proximity to the Summer Solstice provided decent ambient light, as the sun had set not quite a half hour before.

The start officially underway, we raced down the hill and into the woods. With our bear bells strapped to our bikes, the sound of nearly thirty racers ripping downhill sounded like a team of Christmas reindeer falling down a marble staircase.

Thankfully the woods proved sufficiently tamed, no doubt thanks to the gun-toting Palmeranians.

The trails, however, were a different story. Mostly made by another ubiquitous Palmeranian accessory, the four-wheeler, the trails were muddy, confusing, and everywhere. To add to the near-dark excitement, there were rocks, branches, deadfall trees, and puddles larger than some European countries.

But we did really well on the bike leg. We missed some of the first checkpoints, and I found I was of absolutely no help in this regard. I lacked the two basic qualities of successful checkpoint finding – knowing what a checkpoint looks like, the ability to see in the dark, good intuition, and I should probably add counting, since this list seems like more than two things.

In an effort to remove myself from any decision-making processes, I cleverly suggested that I carry the map in a waterproof case on my back. That way, when my team members needed to consult the map, all I had to do was get in front of them and make positive noises as they made decisions.

Being pragmatic by nature, Yvonne, more commonly known as the Yvonnergizer, suggested moving on if we couldn’t find the checkpoint in a given amount of time, as a late finish would prove detrimental to our overall point score.

We were the first team to the Transition Area, where we traded our bikes for backpacks filled with pack-rafts, grabbed quick snacks, and started up a mountain on rubbery legs.

Mine were rubbery, anyway, as I struggled to keep up with Quadzilla. Yvonne had an even better idea. She attached a length of shock cord to both Clark and me, thereby gaining some advantage climbing. Add in her years of dog mushing experience, and she was in charge of the dumbest and slowest sled dogs she could ever hope for. It didn’t help at all that we didn’t understand her commands.

“Gee! Haw! HAW! I SAID HAW!”

“Yvonne, is that laughter?”


We made record time up Bodenburg Butte, found our checkpoint as the sun rose, and jogged down the road, ready for the next leg.

First onto the trails east of the Knik River, we encountered some difficulties, allowing two teams to catch and pass us.

We arrived at Jim Lake, eager to give our legs a respite from the previous 10 hours of abuse. Now, I’m a decent mountain biker, an okay hiker, but I was breathtakingly new to pack rafting. The first time I had EVER SEEN a pack raft was when I pulled it out of the pack.

“Is this it?” I wondered, looking over about a square yard of rubber.

It was.

It turned out to be a brilliant day for a regatta as I inflated the raft, which looked suspiciously like a pool toy. I placed it gingerly into the lake and attempted to get in. It was rather like trying to step on an eel. In all honesty, you could simulate a pack raft perfectly by donning a pair of rubber pants, inflating them to maximum capacity, and simply sitting on the water with a paddle. I pushed my feet forward and fell into the raft’s bottom. I felt my kidneys move at least three inches up. Astonishingly, I had managed already to get a significant amount of water in the bottom of the raft, so perhaps my kidneys were merely trying to avoid drowning.

In my haste to inflate the raft, I had overlooked inflating the raft’s seat, which made me look more or less like a head resting on an inflatable sausage. An added bonus was that my wildly inefficient paddling did less to propel me forward and more to ship water directly into my lap.

Seat inflation corrected at the next portage to the river system, we made our way down the maze of connecting streams toward the Knik River and the finish line.

We had survived the race.

“That was fun. Let’s never do that ever again, ever.” I suggested.

In the off chance that we do, I’ll start growing my beard now.

2 Responses to “Adventure Racing Revisited…”

  1.   Angie Says:

    Yay! It’s about time you were seen by a larger audience. It wouldn’t be a pandiculation for you to write a book. My money is on 2014. (and yeah, it was a stretch for me to use the word pandiculation in that manner, but I know how you feel about stretching so… there ya go)

  2.   LifeLongPalmeranian Says:

    I’d bet the bulk of the gun toters were from Los Anchorage. Most self respecting Palmeranians just go to the back yard to shoot their guns. And I think on a bad day in Bosnia you end up in a mass grave. Enjoyed reading about your adventure story though.

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