Adventure Racing - The Sport of Extremes
The day we arrived at the base of the ski resort at Park City, Utah the racers had already been on course for 24 hours. This epic event is the North Face/Four Winds USA Supreme Adventure Race. We met with the co-founder and race organizer, Karen Livesay in the parking lot to discuss the intricacies of this emerging sports category which combines several disciplines - from the traditional to the down-right exotic - into a multi-day, team race covering hundreds of miles of terrain.
Two categories of racing were in full swing Friday afternoon. The Supreme Adventure Race covers 400 miles over 7 days and is the domain of professional and elite amateur teams competing for higher stakes. The Outdoor Industry Challenge was created as "friendly" competition for those attending the Outdoor Retailer Show in nearby Salt Lake City. Exhibitors, retailers and the media were encouraged to enter 4 person teams for an event spanning Thursday through Saturday afternoon, covering 150 miles. Title sponsor North Face entered a team and put up a challenge to any team to beat them in the shorter race. (They had an incentive to go fast, they needed to be back to man the booth at the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show Saturday.)
At 3:00 pm in Utah, itís hot, so we werenít prepared to hear that the racers coming into that staging area were returning from a 29 mile hike. This staging area or "Timing Area" (TA), demarked the switch from hike to 40-mile mountain bike. Two teams were coming in just minutes apart. Although the teamsí start times are staggered, navigational errors often account for the most time lost. Time can also be gained in the transition area. Similar in concept to the transition of a tri-atholon, but on a grander scale, the teamsí support crew will lay out equipment for the subsequent discipline, prepare food and hydration mixes, clean, repair and organize equipment, help racers change into fresh clothes and clean up after them. Noticeable was the disparity between the top teams and the middle-packers with the higher running teams having more organized and better orchestrated pits.
The 40-mile mountain bike ride would bring the competitors to an impromptu landing strip where history was being made. Using Power Parachutes, one from each of the teams was flown above the surrounding territory by a pilot of what can be considered an ultra-light with a parachute (technically, a soft air-foil). Once a certain location is discovered, a handheld GPS is used to mark the spot and guide the rest of the competitors there by ground. What made this such a historical event was that it marked the first time in aviation and adventure racing history where a power parachute had been flown in competition.
After seeing off the two teams at the base lodge and thanking the volunteers who were digging in for a long night at the check-in tent, we headed 30 minutes south to a reservoir nestled in the foothills. This TA proved to be quite busy as it is the hub for four legs at the same time. Following the Power Parachuting, teams donned wetsuits and entered the water in tandem kayaks for a three-plus hour paddle to the other end of the dog-legged reservoir.
Once at the end of the kayak leg, land was only a fleeting gift. Upon reaching shore, team members relinquished their boats to the support crew, strapped on flippers and slipped back into twilit water to swim 500 meters to another GPS point. Dry clothes and climbing harnesses awaited the competitors at the staging area signaling a steep hike up the scree to the top of a bluff - they would be repelling down the sheer cliff on the front side before donning cycling gear for another 40-mile ride.
We rendezvoused with a 2.5 day team who was still on their 3 hour kayak run following the Power Parachuting. The three men, one woman team from southern California, normally one of the teams to beat, had been struggling on this second day. The first thing one of the team members voiced upon seeing our photo-happy group was to inquire if we had any beer. Following the repelling, that inquiry turned into request, then to desire.
Shortly after that, at 8:30 pm, following 36 hours of grueling tests of endurance, and perseverance, the team elected to pull out. The reasons they cited for their early departure from the competition were, indeed, justifiable - they had been behind and struggling after a disastrous first day and they all had to be back at the OR show early Saturday morning. Perhaps the reason to which we related with greatest empathy was that the 36 ounce margaritas being consumed by revelers at a Park City Mexican joint, where the previous night the team stopped for directions, were calling their name.
To learn more about Adventure Racing, visit www.4windsadventure.com and www.adventuresportsmagazine.com