Time has a way of coloring the past, and mostly, memories of Saturday’s adventure race fill in the outlines of a new experience.
Early Saturday, Tim and Denise, two-thirds of Team STD, headed out from the Fargo area to meet up with me. Personally, I had been up since 12:30 a.m., so getting an early start for the drive from Bemidji to Grand Forks couldn’t come soon enough for me.
We met up at a McDonald’s for our pre-race meeting, where we discussed our strategy over breakfast burritos and coffee. Oh, and Denise and I elected Tim as team captain since he was the one that organized it all.
We made the trek over to Turtle River State Park, where we would begin and end the Extreme North Dakota Spring Primer Adventure Race (click here to see more photos on Flickr). I had some doubts about my ability to keep up with my teammates, especially since I had unintentionally awakened so earlier.
The weather, I figured, would be the greatest challenge. It was cool outside, and windy. And I personally don’t like being wet when I’m cold. Soon, none of those became much of an issue.
The race started by running up a hill and then back down, basically to spread out the field, and we grabbed our map. Then it was off to find mandatory checkpoints in the woods, near the nature trails, and punch our card.
None of us really were quite sure what to expect, I just know I wanted to stay dry as long as possible. And have fun exploring with my team. Once we ran around the park, and collected all six of our checkpoint punches, it was back to the starting area, where we collected another map for the river walk.
We faced our first major challenge: how to go about collecting each of the three optional checkpoints. The directions were vague in that we knew the checkpoints were in or along the banks of the Turtle River, but we didn’t know where. We took some time with this challenge, and struggled to find some of the checkpoints. The one we did find required us to shimmy onto a tree, overhanging the riverbank below, and punch our wristbands.
Having spent quite some time on the river walk challenge, we decided to abandon the other checkpoints and collect our bikes for the next stage. This was one of the areas I was most concerned about. Recently, I took up biking, but I’m not strong on two wheels. But it seems riding through grass, along a tree line, played to my advantage, as I didn’t appear to be slowing down my team.
We did well, and after about a 7-mile trek and 2 checkpoints, we reached Larimore. Once there, we had several more options: orienteering, packrafting or the mystery challenges. Figuring we could make some good time orienteering, and leave ourselves time to do at least one of the other optional courses, we tried our hand at orienteering. Personally, I’m really pretty good at navigation and reading maps, but I don’t know the first thing about plotting GPS coordinates on a map using a compass.
The orienteering had us spending a lot of time in the woods, without any luck, so we made a decision: head back and try the mystery challenges. We knew there was only enough time to do one of the two other optional challenges, and the mystery challenge sounded like it might be tough. We ended up excelling at them: we quickly built a fire out of twigs and leaves, despite a strong wind; we headed out to the hike-a-bike obstacle course, which went well except for one very steep, sandy hill; and then we had to bear-proof our packs by hanging them from a tree limb.
That would have all gone well if I hadn’t thrown the rope over the limb and have the heavy object (a lockblade knife) wrap around the rope, basically making it a knot. To make matters worse, the lockblade opened, leaving a dangerous and precarious situation above us. We nearly gave up on trying to get the knife unstuck, but one last effort brought it sailing over the limb and back to Earth – and missing Tim by a few inches.
Undeterred, we tried once more – and finally rigged our 2 packs up and counterbalanced them on the limb. With that mission accomplished, we grabbed our bikes to head back to the park – 7 miles into a 20+ mph wind – and collect our final 2 mandatory checkpoints.
As we neared the last checkpoint, we were buoyed by knowing that the wind would be behind us for the final mile once we punched our team card. But there was one last challenge.
As we headed down to the river, for the final checkpoint, the final decision was interesting: the punch was across the river, hanging on a tree. We could run around, and spend 10 minutes getting there, or one of us could cross the river. I told Tim I would go, but as he was ahead of me, he didn’t even hesitate. He headed into the river, and it kept getting deeper – and deeper. The cold early spring water was above waist deep, but he punched the card and returned to the bank soaked.
A missed turn cost us some time, probably 4-5 minutes, but we sailed from there, returning to the park to make the mandatory cutoff – and still venture out for another optional checkpoint.
All in all, I learned a lot about adventure racing, and figure I’ll do it again, but not before gaining some orienteering skills. The best part, though, was enjoying the company of my team, and all the laughs we had along the way. Thanks to Tim and Denise for making it a terrific outing and being great teammates!