Ever since being introduced to adventure racing via the well-televised Eco-Challenge, I've been fascinated with these multisport events. They seem to capture the human spirit in raw form, with male-female teams traversing long distances, sometimes hundreds of miles, over remote terrain, tackling myriad challenges together—relying upon each other 100 percent.
I had also heard about racers hallucinating after days without sleep, losing toenails and even portions of skin from long hikes, dislocating shoulders from falling off mountain bikes, and just breaking down mentally and physically.
I wanted to learn the secret to their perseverance, how after pushing their bodies to the limit, they still had the mojo to charge on. So when Team GoLite/Timberland invited me to attend its adventure-racing camp at Beaver Creek Resort Colorado, I jumped at the opportunity.
The two-day camp began with an orientation and skills review, culminating in a two-hour sprint adventure race. Thankfully, we wouldn't be losing any toenails or dislocating any shoulders, but if we played our cards right we'd come back with some of the same mental sturdiness that would lead us through just about any physical battle thrown our way.
Day One: Adventure Racing 101
On day one, we learned that the first modern adventure race, the Raid Gauloises, was held in New Zealand in 1989. Its founder, journalist Gerard Fusil, wanted to combine human-powered endurance racing with the remote terrain of popular car rallies like the Baja 1000 and the Paris-Dakar Rally.
Years later, Raid participant Mark Burnett (who later went on to create TV's Survivor and other reality shows) brought the multisport expedition concept to a wider audience by creating the Eco-Challenge in 1995. Over time, organizers have moved away from the intensive and expensive multiple-day expedition events, instead favoring weekend-warrior races lasting anywhere from six to 48 hours.
After the history lesson, we broke into teams of two men and a woman, the typical makeup of a sprint race team. My teammates and I seemed like a good fit: Mark Kirby, an editor from National Geographic Adventure with a marathoner's physique and legs of steel, and Kris Wagner, a maps expert from Backpacker magazine who lived at altitude and, therefore, could push me up a hill if I needed it.
We headed outside to work on our climbing, mountain biking and kayaking skills, the three sports we'd be doing on race day. I caught myself stealing glances to size up the competition. "I hope you're putting your money on us," I told our coaches, who laughed at my arrogance. I, a self-proclaimed non-competitor who boasted never having pinned on a race number, actually wanted to kick some ass.
After reviewing a few climbing and bike-handling basics, which we seemed to do fairly well considering we were all city kids who didn't spend much time in the mountains, we worked on our kayaking skills in the hotel pool. This was when we first started acting like a team. At first we paddled around in circles laughing nervously, until we realized we'd better get our act together since the next day we'd have to kayak down a river.
"Who wants to be rescued?" asked our kayaking coach Billy Mattison, an adventure-racing veteran who has raced from the jungles of Borneo to the planes of Tibet. Without further prompting, I jumped out of my team kayak into the chilly pool for my "rescue," while Billy explained proper procedure in case we had a person overboard. I floundered around until my teammates hoisted me back into the boat—my swimsuit bottoms slipping down in the process. "We'll just call you Team Full Moon from now on," Billy said with a laugh. The name stuck.