Why I Love Adventure Racing and You Should Too
Adventure Racing: The sport of adventure and racing
By Ian Adamson, Captain, Team GoLite/Eco-Internet
Most people wouldn’t class adventure as a sport, and, similarly, racing isn’t typically associated with adventure. Put the two together, however, and we have an amazingly comfortable marriage.
Adventure Racing is the surprisingly well-balanced grandchild of triathlon, backpacking, exploration, and adventure travel. Here we have a sport that accommodates the wanderlust of the most ardent traveler, the competitive urges of a hard-core athlete, and the spiritual desires of a wilderness devotee.
My association with adventure racing began in 1984 (then called “multi-sport”) as a scornful intrigue of some crazed friends who insisted that beating themselves up and getting lost in the Australian bush was “fun.” To my mind they were more than a few sausages short of the barbie, and I wanted nothing to do with the pain, hunger, confusion, and ultimate suffering involved. Actually, my sadistic tendencies got the better of me, and I agreed to be a support crew for some mates doing “WildTrek,” a two-day winter race in the Southern Alps of Australia.
After 20 years, the event is still running and includes alpine skiing, orienteering, mountain biking, and wild water kayaking. Observing the rituals of these early multi-sport athletes who were part backpacker, part triathlete, part river runner, and mostly mad, I quickly decided this was my sport.
In those days we used cyclocross bikes with many spare wheels since the rough trails would destroy our equipment pretty fast. We used fiberglass Olympic K1 DRR kayaks on the rivers, which tended to get holes punched in them on the rocks. Consequently, movie riggers Gaffer tape was de-rigueur as part of our emergency equipment.
PowerBars were pretty new on the scene and tended to become rock solid in the cold so we ate cookies, orange segments, and pre-prepared sandwiches for racing. Bike bottles were used for fluids on all legs except the kayak, where we would glue a PVC tube into a wine box bladder and place it in the bottom of the boat. We generally put water or Kool-Aid in the bladder, but occasionally someone would forget to fully empty the wine and would end up a little wobbly by the end of the day.
I suffered like a bad dog in my first race, but as we used to say, the more you suffer, the greater the retrospective enjoyment. War stories are so much better after a good suffer session, so by the end of the closing party with a few beers in me I was raring to go for the next year. Unfortunately, suffering tends to decrease with experience and one has to go longer and harder to get the same wonderful post-race effects, something akin to an addiction to misery.
Eighteen years on and I am still in pursuit of pain, and these days it takes quite a harsh environment to get there. I have been in 210 degree ground temperatures (ESPN X-Games, Baja MX, June 1997), 20,000 ft peaks with -80 degree wind chill (Raid Gauloises, Ecuador, October 1998), and in a typhoon during a military incursion (Elf Authentic Adventure, Philippines, May 1999); I have crossed countless countries, the Andes, the Himalayas, deserts, and tropical islands; been over, under, and in the water, ground, and air; through every climate zone (often in one race), on every continent, and ridden all manner of large and small animals, some cantankerous, others impossibly stubborn.
The reality is adventure racing gives me the opportunity to experience wild and wonderful places, share it with close friends, and frequently exceed my known limits. Races compress and amplify life’s qualities – the mental, emotional, spiritual, cultural and physical experiences of a year are crushed into a short space of time and multiplied several times over.
Ultimately my love for adventure racing is a love for life. What I learn in racing I take back to my personal, professional, and family life and in turn bring those experiences back to racing.