BY MOLLY MOILANEN
This past weekend, Team GearJunkie/WEDALI competed in the LBL Challenge, an annual adventure race put together by Bonk Hard Racing. The “LBL” from the name comes from the venue, the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Tennessee and Kentucky, which includes hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness, 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and 200 miles of hiking and biking trails. In other words, an adventure racer’s dream.
Our team has raced in the “LBL” area before, including during the 2011 Checkpoint Tracker National Championships last October where our squad, led by Justin Bakken, took first place on a tough course and against the tough competition of some of the country’s top teams. So it was five months later that we found ourselves making the long drive from Minnesota back to the LBL to jumpstart our 2012 adventure racing calendar.
In addition to prepping our maps and gear the night before the race, we were allowed to stage food and drinks in designated transition areas (TAs) so we planned on racing fast and light. We filled our Platypus Big Zips with water and packed our hip pouches with GUs and energy bars.
The race started at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 24, with an 8k orienteering leg consisting of six checkpoints (orange and white flags placed in the woods that correspond to specific coordinates on our maps). Within minutes of the start, the pack of 150 racers broke apart as team navigators selected different routes to checkpoint No. 1.
Over the next 24 hours, our team would trek, bike and paddle more than 100 miles through the LBL recreation area using only a compass and our wit to visit each of the 50 unique checkpoints plotted on our topographical maps.
Early in the race, we missed a critical turn during an off-road biking leg. A handful of teams leapfrogged us, including Team Tecnu Extreme, a strong squad who would be our main competition of the day. We pushed the pace and tried hunting them down but after closing a gap we got lost in the deep woods during a night orienteering leg. We lost more than an hour wandering in search of a flag. This unfortunately put us too far back to recover from the mistake, Team Tecnu edging ahead toward an eventual overall win.
Despite that fumble, we had a great time biking, trekking, paddling, and exploring the LBL wilderness. Highlights included paddling downwind at dusk enjoying the sunset and moonrise, jumping fish and soaring birds. We paused to notice the 19th-century tombstones scattered in the deep woods. These small plots are remnants and reminders of the communities that existed in the area.
As the night wore on, our team was hit with nagging injuries and the “sleep monsters” that arise during long endurance events. We rallied together by singing our favorite ’90s hits — “Bust A Move,” “California Love,” and “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam among the catastrophes. We shared our favorite caloric pick-me-ups, including Skittles, NutterButter Bites and Mountain Dew.
As the sun began poking up we hit the last few biking checkpoints and crossed the finish line just under the 24-hour mark. We ended up 2nd in our division (four-person coed) and 4th place overall. We relaxed at the finish line for a few hours and enjoyed rehashing the challenging course with the racers coming in to the end. Another epic race in the LBL.
—Molly Moilanen started adventure racing in 2004 when her then-boyfriend (now husband) Justin Bakken convinced her to try a local practice adventure race. “We decided to take a shortcut and we ended up chest-high in a swamp — I was hooked.” Molly keeps the team awake and entertained during long paddle legs by singing camp songs and Broadway ballads. Race highlights include winning the 2010 USARA National Championships and competing in the 2010 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.