WEDALI Wins Adventure Racing Championship

The team name is an acronym referring to the accidental ingestion of debris. They wear funny yellow rainsuits. But Team WEDALI, a Minnesota-based squad who often parenthesizes its full moniker — “We Eat Dust And Like It!” — boasts one of the strongest adventure racing rosters in the land. That prowess was demonstrated last weekend in Kentucky at the Adventure Racing Championship, the season finale event in the Checkpoint Tracker race series that attracts many of the nation’s top teams. At the 24-hour race, WEDALI literally smoked the course and crushed the competition. They won by a wide margin, finishing more than an hour ahead of second-place Team SOG/Tecnu Extreme. (Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers, a squad sponsored by this site, took 6th place in the event.) WEDALI won $5,000 and immense street cred in the sport for the victory. Here’s a Q&A with team captain Justin Bakken, the 31-year-old Minnesotan who co-founded WEDALI in 2003.

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Team WEDALI in post-race pose (wearing raingear); photo © Chris Radcliffe

Gear Junkie: What is WEDALI’s secret? You continue to kick butt at almost every race you attend.
Justin Bakken: We’re out there to have fun at every race, no exceptions — we love to play in the woods and really enjoy the camaraderie that comes with overcoming challenges during adventure racing. We’ve got a great crew of family and friends that support us in our endeavors and the AR scene is an awesome community. Also, racing with the same teammates for a long time is like playing in a rock band — you get better and better with each show. I’ve been racing with Scott Erlandson for nine years now! Jason and Andrea Nielsen, the other half of the team for this race, are married so they obviously have that connection, too.

At the Adventure Racing Championship, what was the most unexpected part of the course?
Definitely the “noodle rafting” challenge. We had to tie pool noodles together and float across a bay at night. Unfortunately, the noodles worked their way apart 100 meters from shore and our raft broke in half. Scott went swimming, and it was cold out! Frost on the ground. We ended up carrying the raft parts on a run around the bay and back. We laugh about it a lot now, but it wasn’t funny at the time!

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And they’re off! Start of 2011 Adventure Racing Championship; photo © Chris Radcliffe

How did the big orienteering section go? Smooth or any errors?
Really well overall. It was about 20 miles long and it took us 6.5 hours. Our crew kept a decent pace throughout and we didn’t have any major navigation errors. A couple of times we missed a reentrant or a spur, but we were able to correct fairly quickly and probably only lost a total of 20 to 25 minutes over the course.

What part of the course was the most fun?
The fast and flowing singletrack mountain biking was definitely a highlight. We did the entire bike leg in the dark, so you gotta love night riding the trails!

What part of the course was the most difficult?
The paddle to the finish line in the fog. Effort-wise it was a fairly easy pace, but navigating five miles in a canoe when you can only see ten meters in front of you is challenging. You pretty much put your head down and stare at your compass the whole time. We used time estimates to keep us on track of when we might hit certain land features along the way, but going down the wrong bay can get your team lost in a hurry and it’s very challenging to relocate. Having the mental pressure of the race on the line added to the intensity of the moment!

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Charting a course on the race map; photo © Chris Radcliffe

Any particular gear that really made a difference in the race?
My pack got wet from sitting in the bottom of the boat while paddling and from several stream crossings during an ill-advised route choice. My lightweight Sea to Summit dry bags kept my clothes and gear dry the duration of the race. Our O2 rainwear jackets were also critical for late race temperature regulation on the bike and after the noodle rafting. I used an orienteering thumb compass on the big rogaine. We paddled with Epic wing blades. Other crucial stuff included our Helly Hansen HH Dry base layer tops (which are our WEDALI jerseys), our De Soto arm coolers, and the blister-preventing Injinji socks, which have articulated toes.

What was the lowest moment for you or the team on this course? What was the high point?
Our crew was solid the entire event and I can honestly say that we didn’t seem to have any low moments during the race. Definitely some tired moments, but never a time where we felt lost or without direction. The high point was the finish! With the thick fog on the final paddle, teams could (and did) pass each other without even knowing it! We weren’t taking anything for granted and we didn’t know how close teams were behind us. Getting to the finish first was both a sense of relief and elation.

Team SOG/Tecnu Extreme was your major competition in this race. At what point did you know you were pulling ahead of them for the win?
I don’t think we were ever sure that we were pulling ahead of them. We last saw them at CP41 (at the pool-noodle raft challenge) and we figured we might have about a 15 to 20 minute lead. That ended up being about five hours of racing from the finish, including multiple bike route choices and paddling through heavy fog. We never saw them again until they arrived at the finish. Adventure racing is different from most all sports in that you have to keep pushing because sometimes you never know. Victories can be won and leads can be blown without either team ever seeing the other.

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WEDALI in high spirits on the course; photo © Chris Radcliffe

You’ve done several national champs races over the years. How did this race measure up as a national championship event?
The organization and course design of the event was one of the best. Routes involved navigation and decision-making during all three disciplines. The singletrack mountain biking was great and the technical orienteering was cheeky and fun. Lots of great post-race stories to hear after the dust settled.

What did you guys do once you found out you won?
Lots of hugs and high-fives. It was just awesome!

interview continued on next page. . .

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