Anatomy of an adventure race

The map-based wilderness sport is defined by deep woods, on-the-run problem solving and aerobic output via foot, bike and kayak.


By STEPHEN REGENOLD, Special to the Star Tribune


The checkpoint flag was hidden in a swamp. My shoes were sinking into muck, cattails and reeds spiking overhead in a dank wetland near the Minnesota River.


“Any luck in there?” my teammate shouted, inquiring on the search from higher ground.


It was 10 a.m., a hot morning in mid-July. The Minnesota Orienteering Club’s annual adventure race had kicked off an hour earlier, releasing 42 teams to hunt and search for flags scattered miles apart in the river country west of Mankato.Kevin Jost, a participant in the Minnesota Orienteering club's adventure race, ran through Minneopa Creek


As the third of five events in this year’s Minnesota Adventure Racing Series, the competition mixed running, biking and kayaking with a choose-your-own-route challenge through the prairies, woods and swamps in and around Minneopa State Park.


GPS devices were not allowed. Instead, the teams -- mostly coed squads with two or four people -- employed maps and compasses to locate and punch more than 25 checkpoint flags hidden in a tangle of topographic detail.


Adventure racing, an activity characterized by its multi-sport wilderness race courses, has gained popularity in recent years with a diehard demographic of outdoor athletes. More than a decade ago, the Eco-Challenge race and its accompanying reality-TV series put adventure racing on the national radar.


Today, it remains a growing activity, with about 50,000 participants nationwide, according to the U.S. Adventure Racing Association, based in Austin, Texas. The group cites more than 350 adventure races nationwide in 2009, including several in Minnesota.


“We have a community of core racers that have given a lot of time to the sport in this state,” said Justin Bakken, a top area racer from Minneapolis with the team WEDALI.


Bakken’s team, a fixture at races in the region, finished fourth in the 2008 National Championships last autumn. Next month, he will navigate for WEDALI in the 10-day Primal Quest Badlands event in South Dakota, where teams will race for hundreds of miles in search of flags and the finish line.


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