Adventure racing: Why not?
Sometimes, my husband says, I’m like a bull in a China shop. I don’t like to read directions and I tear packages like a 5-year-old who can’t wait to see what it’s inside – be it a Christmas present or a new coffee maker.Even though I suspected this was true, and knowing it would work against my team, I didn’t have second thoughts about signing up for Sunday’s Beaver Creek Adventure Sprint Race, an event that included obstacle courses and orienteering to find checkpoints throughout Beaver Creek Mountain while trail running and mountain biking.With Trenton Greene, 24, and Nate Simon, 18, who work at Venture Sports in Avon, we formed team Venture. Although we all regularly ride our mountain bikes – Trenton raced in college – the Beaver Creek event would be our first adventure race, and none of us had any idea of what the orienteering part of the race would entail. But that was just part of the fun.To find the checkpoints, we were given two kinds of maps – the regular trail map of the mountain; and an orienteering map, a topographical map showing man-made features such as fences and roads.And that’s when the fun started – with getting lost.Unlike other teams that seemed to shoot from one checkpoint to the other with little hesitation, we lost our way in three of four legs of the race. Which was OK. Actually, it made it feel a little bit more like “Survivor,” since we ended up in the wrong spots, away from everybody else, adding miles to our trek in what seemed to be quite a jungle – yes on Beaver Creek Mountain. But by being lost, we found things, too.”We need to come and ride this trail,” Nate told Trenton as we jumped on a new trail after failing to find a checkpoint.Being lost is frustrating. You know the clock is running and you lose sight of the other teams, and you think, “We’re the last ones, let’s get going! Where the hell are we?” On the other hand, you really get to feel the adrenaline in your bloodstream, especially when you’re trying to find your way out across hip-high vegetation and a 3-feet-long garden snake shoots in front of you – don’t worry, they won’t hurt you.You also get to see the mountain in a different way. You find new trails, new flowers and cool spots to ride your bike or hike. When we got lost near Beano’s Cabin on the last leg of the race, we ended up riding our bikes across a field of wildflowers that most the other teams missed.”It’s all creative thinking,” said Mike Kloser, who won the 24-Hour Adventure Race on Saturday. “It’s not only about endurance and genetics. There’s also this thinking factor involved to use your mind.”And our team got quite creative during the race. Trenton and Nate, two gifted mountain bikers and athletes, were fast thinkers, especially when I had to step on Nate’s back to climb a 10-foot hurdle wall on a rope during the adventure skills test. I would have not made it without Nate’s push from the bottom and Trenton, who was at the top of the wall and wouldn’t let me go, even though I almost took him down with me.We were a team for everything. Sharing water from the Camelbacks, Trenton pushing me from the back on parts of the mountain bike climbs. Nate offered to run the second leg while we sat on our bikes looking for more orange buckets.In the end, we finished second to last in the coed category in 5 hours 28 minutes – we got an extra 30-minute penalty for not finding a checkpoint. We all knew we would have finished in about four hours if we hadn’t got lost so many times.”We have the athletic ability,” Trenton said after the race. “Next time, we need to plan better.”Orienteering can be the make-or-break in adventure racing, said Kloser, who has years of experience with adventure races, including ECO Challenges, which take several days to complete.”It’s critical to orient yourself to the location and spend a minute or two confirming map location,” he said. “Haste is often waste when it comes to orienteering.”Kloser recommends adventure race beginners take a moment and determine the course by looking at the features of the terrain. “Make sure you know where you are and where you’re going.”Wise words. Just a day late, I think, while I’m writing this story Monday. But there’s nothing as effective as learning on the field. When you’re hiking all those extra miles or you can’t find the next checkpoint and it was right there, next to you, you realize maybe you should have taken a couple of more minutes to look at the map. Next time.But it didn’t matter. Yes, we got lost several times, we didn’t post a winning time, but it was so much fun. It was like being a kid again, learning new things and getting surprises.A gratifying moment, however, came with the last adventure skills test, where several teams had a hard time. After spending hours lost in the mountain, it took us just a few minutes to make our way through a diamond-tension box and a balance beam, where I had to walk with wet socks and snowshoes.”I loved the swimming part, and coming down,” said Nate, who swam with me 150 feet on the cold pond while Trenton climbed the 45-foot rock-climbing wall.Trenton said the obstacle course – the one where he had to pull my 132-pound body over the top of the wall – was his favorite part. I rolled my eyes.”I would definitely do it again,” he said as he took his muddy biking shoes off.When I was riding up the mountain on the last leg of the race I thought, ‘I’m not sure I’d do this again’. On Monday, I was ready to plan the next one.And I hope Trenton and Nate will be there. It doesn’t hurt to have two young studs by your side.Thanks Nate and Trenton.