Adventure racing is an endurance sport which involves travel on foot (trekking or running), mountain bike and by water (canoe, kayak, raft, occasionally swimming).

What differentiates AR from other racing sports is the inclusion of wilderness navigation using a map, compass and common sense. There is no set race course; participants must find their own route from one checkpoint to the next. The checkpoints (CPs) are marked on maps which the racers receive shortly prior to or at the start of the race. AR also differs from other sports in that racers are part of a team of 2-4 people who travel together the entire time.

The races can last from several hours to many days and are unsupported, for the most part, which means that the racers carry what they will need (food, water, gear) in backpacks for the duration of the race.

To succeed, racers will need athletic endurance, navigation skills, mental toughness, good pre-race planning, strategic decision making as well as a strong and supportive "team" mentality.

Sound intimidating? While it's true that longer races can test even the toughest outdoor athletes, AR is a very open and inclusive sport. Beginning racers will feel welcome at nearly every event. Most races are organized so that anyone at any level of experience and fitness can participate. You can find a race near you on the calendar at the USARA website.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

2 Rivers Adventure Race, Wilmington DE area, 12/2/2017

Doing another adventure race was Reed's preferred mode of [parentally mandated] exercise for the 2nd half of the year. Obviously, I was more than fine with this choice and began to look for a suitable event. We certainly found a good race when we chose Rootstock Racing's 2 Rivers AR as our next event. There was a little uncertainty about what I was dragging my 14-year old into for 12 hours in December: would it be 35 and sleeting? 55 and sunny? Thankfully it was much closer to the latter on race day, limiting his race-day hypothermia to a few brief periods.

I picked Reed up early from school and we drove 7 hours to our hotel the night before the race. A 4:10AM alarm woke us in time to hit Denny's before the bike drop. Despite the apparent need for a security guard stationed in the restaurant, we had a quiet meal and fueled up on cheap pancakes. On the way to the bike drop, we were treated to site of a giant orange "supermoon" moonset - wow.

At the frosty race registration (and future finish line), we geared up, got a look at the maps and huddled in the heated car as long as we could before boarding buses back to the bike drop. The finish line was situated among rolling fields and historic barns and farmhouses in a scenic highbrow (think DuPont money) agrarian landscape. The last leg of the race would be a "farmgaine' through these properties. Major kudos to race organizers Abby and Brent for securing access to this unique terrain.

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Photo: Vlad Bukalo

After a quick jog on frosty gravel, we were off on bikes in the White Clay Creek State Park in Newark. These trails were FUN! So flowy and smooth - what a contrast with New England. I swear there were maybe seven rocks in the whole park. Our initial plan was to skip a section of this park, but once we experienced the rad trail conditions and found the CPs coming fairly quickly, that plan changed.

Following this section we rode to the canoe put-in. This involved a 6 mile ride through a busy commercial and residential area, down to the tidal Christina River.

The river would lead us 8 miles to downtown Wilmington. It was a bit of a slog in the canoe which handled like a bathtub in the early miles as we worked against a mild current. It required near-constant corrective steering to track straight. If I looked at the map or spaced out for a couple seconds, we began to fly off left or right. Things improved a bit later in the paddle, as the tide switched. Along the way we grabbed several CPs in the reedy side channels and hunted for a specimen of wild rice, which was required for us to get credit for a CP on the leg.

New racer with an accomplished paddle
We, along with several other teams, bungled the approach to the take-out, necessitating some extra canoe-wrangling in order to end up at the approved spot. By this time, the sun had ducked behind the clouds and Reed was really cold from our wet river trip. We took some extra time at the TA to get him clothed and dry, as much as possible. The race organizers had transported a small bag of our dry clothes to this point and we were glad to pull on dry socks and shoes.

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Photo: Vlad Bukalo

We grabbed food and ate as we began the next leg, trekking along the riverwalk into Wilmington and picking up a few CPs along the way.

Once in downtown Wilmington the urban-O course really began. We found a dozen CPs in the city and recorded a clue at most of them, typically historical info found on art (statues) and architecture around town. The CPs were sited in differing parts of town, including poor residential areas, which provided an appreciated balanced tour of the city, rather than simply presenting the tourist-friendly highlights.

At one point Reed really needed to use the bathroom but the area we were in for 30+ mins was primarily small residences and the occasional tiny corner store/restaurant. We asked a few places and eventually got a yes at the Mt. Zion Miracle Station Church which was unlocked for an afternoon service. The kind folks there also invited us to come back anytime after the race and gave us a church leaflet, which we stowed in the map case. At the end of this leg, we trotted along the river in the pleasant Brandywine Park en route to the next TA  under towering I-95, in the scenic peri-urban river valley.

After switching to bike mode in the waning daylight (3:30 in December), we began the 2nd bike leg, which would take us out of Wilmington toward the finish line, just across the state line in PA. I had several nav bobbles on this leg which was actually very simple; not sure what my problem was. Basically we trucked along a road and then a long linear trail into Brandywine Creek State Park as night fell and the big fat moon rose. There was a second bike trail orienteering section available here, but there were dozens of CPs to be had on the farmgaine leg, which we were most interested in, so we skipped the bike-O and headed into the fields. This was a very fun leg - working through fields, trails and patches of forest and finding antique farm structures. The highlights were Reed spotting a couple silent deer silhouetted on a nearby ridge and trekking without headlamps for a bit in the bright moonlight. The lowlights were some continued inconsistent nav and bits of bad luck and near misses. We did not end up covering that much of the farmlands, unfortunately, and time was getting tight.  Throughout the race, Reed had been his usual able, agreeable race-buddy self and was fine with jogging whenever I suggested it. Because I was getting nervous about time, we jogged most of the last half hour.

I knew there was a ford of the Brandywine Creek near the end, which I was secretly hoping to have to do, although I wasn't sure how it would work into our route plans. As time dwindled, I got my wish - we found the site of the ford with only about 30 minutes left on the clock and there was no good route option, in the time allotted, other than to ford the creek. It wasn't bad - no more than thigh deep and not icy cold, maybe 25m across - and was a fun highlight to the leg. Once across, we waded a small creek, found our last CP, bushwhacked some odd humpy vegetation, and jogged up to the big barn to finish with ~10 minutes to spare. We covered just under 45 miles on the day.

Reed emerging unscathed from the deeper first part of the ford

This was a great 12 hour course - Reed's longest race so far. The varied and interesting terrain made for a great day. While the initial mountain biking was terrific, the urban-O and farmgaine, not typical AR activities, were equally enjoyed. Thanks Rootstock Racing for a great race weekend.