Four months ago, my husband called asking if I would be interested in participating in the 2008 Ozark Adventure Race. As a five-time marathoner, an adventure race seemed to be right up my ally, and I excitedly agreed. We formed two teams of three (Team Viper: Whit, Mike and myself; Team Acid: Chris, Veronique and Jake) and over the next few months our group of six, biked together, ran together and talked strategy on how not to die during this race. The daunting 50 to 70 miles never once frightened us while training, and instead, just added to the excitement of how "hard-core" we would be when this was over.
Fast forward to 3 a.m. on Saturday, November 14, 2008. Here I am in Fayetteville, Arkansas, cold as all heck, bundled in every piece of clothing I brought with me: tights, tri-shorts, wool socks, rain pants, long-sleeved top, fleece jacket, rain jacket, neck warmer, hat and gloves. I can still feel the wind at the start of the race, and we haven't even been in the open land yet. We were given only minimal information before the start, such as the start time of 3 a.m. and that race officials hoped to have all of the teams finished with the course by 7 p.m. Our two teams are the youngest competitors by ten years, and other teams look at us like we're crazy to participate in a 12 to 18 hour race for our first adventure raceâ€¦ I'm beginning to think they're right.
We have two race maps and a list of coordinates to see where we need to go. Our goal is to plot each leg correctly, race to each flag, punch our passport, and somehow make it back to the finish with each stationed punch on our passport without giving up or being disqualified. Our first leg is mountain biking, and without further ado, we adjust our bike lights and headlamps and head towards where we think the trail is.
15 minutes later, we're back to the start and need to figure out a different route. So far, the only thing we've accomplished is waking up an entire neighborhood as dogs and people are wondering what kind of misfits are out riding bikes at three in the morning. A new route is established, and we're in luck this time, other teams are ahead of us and a few are following us. Sure enough, we come to the base of a large hill, or perhaps what Arkansas people think is a mountain. I take the lead, and try to follow the single track mountain bike path in the complete darkness. Teams are all around us, but it's impossible to look at anything besides the ground ahead of the front tire. An hour into the race, the top team is already heading down the mountain, and we haven't even punched our first station.
We spend four and a half hours mountain biking, punching seven different stations of the total 15. Once off the mountain, we bike to our transition station, which brings us to the canoeing portion of the race. Before the race, Mike tried to convince me to buy a sling seat for the canoe, which race officials highly recommended but did not require. I disagreed with my husband. Surely I wouldn't need it for two hours or so of canoeing. He and Whit could paddle, and I would keep the balance in the middle of the canoe, balancing on my knees or feet.
Launching the canoe proves to be difficult as the river is only six to nine inches deep. Every time we settle in to start paddling, the canoe sinks down into the rocky bed, and we go nowhere. Within the first 20 minutes, our feet are soaked with cold river water as we have to keep getting out and dragging the canoe to deeper parts. An hour into the canoe, my feet are numb, the sweat has dried on my body, and I am far colder now than I was at the start.
Hour two on the canoe, Mike looks at the map to find where we are. I am quickly losing hope. I've found that the balancing on my feet is harder than I originally thought, and the canoe has become dramatically uncomfortable. Mike and Whit come back with good and bad news. Good, they know where we are. Bad, we have a long ways to go.
Hour three, tears are flowing out of my eyes. I am cold, wet and hate canoeing. I'm shaking from the cold, and Mike tells me to paddle to get the blood flowing. Our team has yet to perfect our method of paddling, and one of us is constantly saying, "Brace yourselves", as we crash into beaver dams, logs and embankments.
Hour four, we try to pass the time by singing songs. That lasts for 10 minutes, and then misery settles in again. For the past three hours, we've been alone in the river. Now, we see another two other teams behind us. We become stuck on a submerged log, and the teams pass us. When they're a few yards away, our team is again in the water, dislodging the canoe. By the time we become unstuck, the two other teams are nowhere to be seen.
Hour five, this stupid river will never end and now, the two men have joined me in hating canoeing. I am permanently sitting in a pool of water from all of the getting in and out, and though we keep dumping the water when possible, it keeps coming back to seep into my socks and up my legs to soak my tights. My body begins to show signs of hypothermia as I can no longer grip things with my hands, my body shakes uncontrollably, and I am having trouble balancing when we have to walk with the canoe. Mike insists every five minutes for me to paddle, wiggle my toes, and wear his slightly less wet gloves.
Hour six, I fear we'll be on this river forever. When Whit and Mike finally spot our stopping point, I can't even be happy or excited. Instead, I simply get out and walk straight to the fire one of the volunteers has started. I entertain the thought of quitting and letting Mike and Whit continue as a two-man team. Mike responds, "I'm finishing this race with you, so you can't quit." Those are just the sweet words I need to hear, and after eating a protein bar, we're moving again, this time on dry land.
This leg of the race is a 10 mile trekking section. We try running a few yards, then walking some. I, the proud marathoner, hold my team back as I'm unable to run for very long. Lucky for me, both Mike and Whit are compassionate souls and only give encouragement. The fire-starting volunteer drives by us in a truck, telling us we have only one team behind us. Within the next mile, that team passes us, and we have officially become the last place team. Our saving grace, however, is that many teams have already quit and given up, and we still have the heart to keep going (thanks to my husband and Whit, I have not quit).
Just before 5 p.m., we are back to the place where we left our bikes. There, we hear some of the most glorious words I have ever heard: "You have missed the cut-off time for this station, so you cannot continue to the next leg." Though disappointing to not make it to the rappelling and orienteering parts of the race, our team will still be considered as having completed the race if we just bike to the finish.
We hop on our bikes and head towards home. At 5:30 p.m., we cross the finish line, take a quick picture, and then I hop into the car and crank the heater. We spent 14.5 hours racing, and my body can feel every minute of it.
Our other three friends are still out on the course, having made it a little further than we did before being turned back, and at 6:30 p.m., all six of us are ready for some hot food and cold beer. The Ozark Adventure Race was exactly that, an adventure, and though I can't say I'll participate in it again, I will say that it showed me two things: One, I am not a canoeing type of person; and two, my husband is more wonderful and supportive than I ever thought.
Thanks to Whit Collins for joining with Mike and me to form Team Viper and for showing a lot of heart, determination and giving encouragement to a very cold and ready-to-be-finished-with-canoeing gal.
Thanks to Chris Behrens, Jake Pippenger and Veronique Jarrell-King for forming Team Acid and joining us for the adventure. Great job to all three of you, and thanks for the fun during training, the drive there and back, and the camaraderie.
Thanks to Jessica Behrens and Eileen Hess for getting up at 1:30 a.m. when you didn't have to, supporting all six of us throughout the race and for greeting us with a beer at the end.
And a special thanks to my husband, Mike Cady, who is the reason I continue when I feel like quitting, not just in this race, but in everyday life. (Also, thank you for giving me your only pairs of gloves and dry socks too!)