Retiring from ski racing isn't exactly what I thought it would be. What I've chosen to do isn't sitting on the beach in Baja sipping margaritas and waiting for the next big swell. In fact it's probably about as far from that as possible. There are warm climates involved though, but instead I'll be bushwhackin’ around in search of the next CP, which means, “check point” in adventure racing lingo.
Yep, I’m one of those people who willingly go for days suffering without sleep, proper food, or the feeling like everything in the world is OK. In fact during an adventure race you rarely even feel like you are human. All this is coming from a guy who has only done three “short” races. In adventure racing “short” means a twenty-four hour cut-off to receive an official result, with the best teams finishing in 13-15 hours.
My first experience with this masochistic form of racing came last summer with two other Nordic skiers. Nina Kemppel, and Nathan Schultz decided that the $50,000 first place prize in the Gorge Games was worth going for, and when Nathan called me, I too licked my chops at the prospect of a big payday. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not ALL about the cash, but we also were all at a point in our careers that the “adventure” aspect wouldn’t quite get us out of bed in the morning. We all knew it was the green backs that were drawing us together for this sufferfest.
Well, we suffered. We also ended up placing third in a field of the best teams in the world. We were happy with third and the ten grand that came with it, but mainly we were happy to be finished. Out on the blistering hot course I know we each made a promise to ourselves that we would never put our mind and bodies through that again. I’m pretty sure that was the first thing we vocalized to each other the moment we stepped across the finish line, and would continue to mumble into the night.
You know the feeling when you wake up hung-over and say you’ll never drink again? Well that’s exactly how I felt for a long time after the race, but unfortunately memory is a strange thing. Towards the middle of the ski season this year I was thinking what I wanted to do when I retired from ski racing in the spring. I wanted to use my fitness, but wasn’t ready to go back to a regimented training schedule that was my life for the last twelve years. Some adventure racing teams had called me during the early part of the winter expressing interest, and the seed was planted. You know that race last summer wasn’t so bad, and this could be a good opportunity to stay in good shape, and hopefully make a living at the same time.
Team Montrail was one of the teams that had expressed interest, and was especially appealing because I had grown up ski racing with one of the team members. They also had a great woman, which each team needs, both because it’s one of the rules in adventure racing, but also because it just balances things well. I also knew that Montrail was a great company based in Seattle where I grew up.
We decided to race together for the first time at one of the short races in California, and see how it went. I was excited to show them I could be a good addition to the team, and let my fitness do the talking. Two nights before I was to fly to Santa Barbara I got what seemed to be my tenth cold of the year. I was hackin’ up green stuff, and feeling way lousy. I didn’t have a choice to not go though. The tickets had been bought, and the team was all counting on me. I knew that a hard race just got a lot harder.
We raced and gelled well, producing a second place result on a day where none us were feeling too stellar. I suffered more then in my previous attempt in the Gorge Games, but this time I knew that it was mainly due to my sickness. I still had serious doubts about doing this for a profession, but I still wanted to see what a long race was all about, especially since that’s where the big dollars are.
We still needed more racing together, and we decided to try another one of the Cal-Eco series, this one being in the Mendicino area north of San Francisco.
Typically these races involve sea kayaking, running/trekking, mountain biking, and route finding through it all with only a map and compass-no GPS. This one began at 6 am with a three-hour kayak down the coast in rolling swells with good attendance by the local sea lions, and with a wild beach landing in a wicked beach break. Both our boats got flipped, and that’s with one of them containing a former US whitewater team member.
Reaching CP#1 we had a twenty-five minute lead and felt good about things as we changed out of our wetsuits, and into our running gear.
Going out onto the run we knew at best we had a 25 mile jaunt through the redwoods of Northern California with seven more check points to find. At best meaning that navigating is huge part of this sport, and 25 miles could easily turn into 30 or more. That’s where my buddy Pat Harper comes into the picture. Besides being a great athlete, he is considered one of the best map-readers in the business, and is happy to have the pressure on him to find us the shortest route possible. Unfortunately, none of us helped Pat out by reading and fully understanding the race directions on this day. To make a long story (and run) short, we had to do an out and back that cost us our lead, and over an hour of our time. This is adventure racing though. Make a mistake, re-group and go on knowing that there is still a lot of race in front of you.
After 8 hours on foot, and a few great navigating moves, we had rallied from eighth back up to second. With this jump our confidence also shot up. We left CP#9 on our mountain bikes with newfound energy, and at least two Red Bulls in our stomachs. We were charging toward the lead when I broke my chain towing Rebecca. My team mate Shane helped me put in a new link, and we were off again, almost. I had mis-threaded my chain through my rear deraileur, and we had to mimic the process of fixing the chain that had just taking us five minutes- oh well, that’s adventure racing.
The bike leg ended up being our best navigating of the day, and Pat guided us onto a road that wasn’t on the map, but went right where we wanted to be-the finish line. As we came around the last corner we saw our rivals Earthlink just getting off their bikes, and we knew that we had just left it a bit short. Our Second time in the runners up spot, but this time we knew the speed was there, and we were becoming a very tight team.
Which leaves me to where I am now, which is sitting on a plane heading to the Canary Islands for my first long race. It’s a three-day stage race, which includes in-line skating, kayaking, caving, climbing, running, scuba diving, and mountain biking. It should be a great race in a beautiful location. My fiancÃ©e Beckie also will join me on this one, and we will finally get that vacation in the sun. Well, sort of.