Early Saturday morning, the alarm went off – way too early I thought. But I rose anyway, began packing my gear and clothes for the Extreme North Dakota Adventure Race, and headed out the door.
A few hours later I met friends Tim and Denise in Grand Forks, where we carpooled to west of Walhalla. The 24-hour race, set in the Pembina Gorge, is probably the roughest country in North Dakota. And the race is not for the faint of heart.
Consider finding checkpoints spread out over the gorge – trekking and climbing through brush, trees and muck, scrambling up and down shale cliffs and over boulders in the dirty brown river. Then biking along gravel roads, brush covered trails and along ridges at night, a wrong move sending you plummeting into the dark trees and rock below. When it’s too thick to ride, you hoist your bike through the forest through a section called Devil’s Ditch, unable to keep your footing on the steep pitch, and sliding and falling into the trees and brush – the only choice being whether to fall on your bike and letting it fall on you.
Sound like fun? To about 100 people, it sounded like a great idea. Perhaps it was a moment of weakness. Or perhaps they like a different challenge or simply have an odd sense of pain.
To be successful, I’m convinced, you have to travel light with ultralight gear. And you have to run every chance you get, save for the scrambling up and down cliffs or pushing your way through thick underbrush or river muck. Fitness is important, but so are navigation and orienteering skills.
Quite honestly, though, the best part is the friendship and camaraderie that grows from going through hardship together. Of experiencing trials and challenges, supporting each other through them, and living through one tough adventure – regardless of race results.
The truth is adventure racing isn’t really for me. Parts of it is fun, but I’d rather torture myself by racing marathons, tackling grueling workouts and training for triathlons. But I’m thankful for the opportunity – to share the experience with friends and push myself through new boundaries – and look forward to the next great challenge.