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Friday, April 26, 2013

Adventure Racing -the extremest of extreme sports

By J. R. Wagner

Adventure Racing, portage, J.R. Wagner, the never chronicles
yup, that's me

Recently, I was speaking with an old friend about my adventure racing days and as I was telling the story I realized that I haven't shared any of these feats of insanity with many people.  So, in an effort to spread the word about a very challenging (crazy) yet fun sport, I thought I'd share a few stories.

The first sport I involved myself in as an adult was called adventure racing.  Adventure racing is the granddaddy of extreme sports.  The races range from several hours to several days in length (depending on how good you are) and have three primary components; 
mountain biking, 
click for image credit

trekking (a combination of trail running and navigation) 
click for image credit

and a paddle of some sort. 
click for image credit
The events can be raced as a team or as an individual. Before (or at) the race start, you are given a set of grid coordinates and a map.  The goal of the race is to PROPERLY plot the grid coordinates on the map (called check points) then make your way from check point to check point as fast as you can. Simply finishing an adventure race is an accomplishment worth bragging about. 

 I’ll begin with my first race.

Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania; home to the Youghiogheny (Yack-A-gainey) river, beautiful waterfalls and breathtaking scenery. It also happens to be the location of several Adventure Races every year. I mention the Youghiogheny (known as the Yough [yack] to locals) because in Ohiopyle it makes a near 180 degree turn just before a ~40’ waterfall. The turn, because it is narrow and sharp, is home to numerous category two, three and four rapids. Below the falls is another stretch of rapids including a category five (the most extreme –someone usually dies there every year). Above the river the elevation shoots upward (and not in a kind or gentle way, especially when on a bike or on foot) nearly 2000 feet.  If you know anything about topographical maps, the contour lines are practically on top of one another around the river.


Here is a nice map for added drama. 
Brown = elevation.  

Anyway, There was an intro to Adventure Racing clinic I decided to take over a long weekend that ended in an 8-hour race. After several months of training, I thought I was ready.  I met someone at the clinic (we are still friends nearly 12 years later) and we decided to race as a two-person team. Mike and I plotted our points and off we went. I believe it was the first or second checkpoint that got us into trouble.  We spent the better part of half an hour running through the woods looking for our checkpoint to no avail.  Eventually, after reading the race instruction booklet again, Mike realized that the point was plotted on the wrong side of the road.   

We quickly made our way to the correct location, which happened to be a landmark we had both driven past on several occasions and was even mentioned in the checkpoint description.  Ugh.  The rest of the race went rather well.  We fought to make up the time deficit on the rest of the teams by blazing down a 60’ rappel and riding at break-neck speeds down the mountain on our bikes.  We were making our way back to the finish when we saw another two-person team just in front of us.  We sprinted. The other team didn’t realize we were coming up on them until a group of spectators at the finish started cheering. They looked over their shoulders and bolted to the finish. It turned out to be the team to occupy the final spot on the podium (third place). After nearly seven hours, we missed third place by seconds.

The competitive person inside me knew I could better –win even but I stored that in the back of my mind for later and enjoyed the day. I’d made a new friend and the post-race camaraderie at an adventure race is second to none. All the athletes share their stories of how they navigated the course (including screw-ups) and generally have a good time. In what may seem like a masochistic sport, I had found pleasure in overcoming what most people would consider impossible.

My first adventure race, as well as the clinic, was directed by American Adventure Sports -great people, check 'em out!

If you think that was exciting (or insane), wait until you hear my next story.  I'll just say it involved a river rescue, a helicopter and nightmares for years to come.

Next story click HERE (will be active August 12)

~In the book world, word of mouth is king~

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  1. Whoa. That's crazy, man. All I do is swim laps. That was insane......

  2. Love this post! I have been doing extreme sports like skydiving for 4 years now. I recently got extreme sport insurance because I thought it has become necessary haha. I would deff. recommend it for whoever is also a skydiving enthusiast.