Team GearJunkie/WEDALI Wins National Championships!

It took 29 hours and 110 miles of distance covered in the wilderness on foot, bike, boat, and riverboard. But this past weekend, Team GearJunkie/WEDALI pushed the pace on one of the highest-profile adventure races of the year, the 2012 Checkpoint Tracker Championship Race, and grabbed a substantial win: First Place Overall and the crowned National Champions of the sport!

Team GearJunkie/WEDALI after the victory (Justin Bakken, Thomas Puzak, Kelly Brinkman, Stephen Regenold); photo by Chris Radcliffe

The annual event, held this year in West Virginia on September 28 – 29, attracts top endurance racers from around the United States. This year’s course included whitewater rafting, trail running, mountain biking, orienteering, and riverboarding in and around the precipitous New River Gorge.

Venue for an epic course: The New River Gorge of West Virginia

Plotted checkpoints on a map revealed the location of dozens of hidden flags scattered throughout the woods and near trails of the region. Teams used only the race maps and a compass to create a unique course. Time limit was 30 hours, and the goal was to “clear the course” and find all the flags.

Team GearJunkie/WEDALI running on an orienteering leg; photo by Chris Radcliffe

The team for this event was comprised of captain Justin Bakken, Editor/Founder of GearJunkie.com, Stephen Regenold, and athletes Kelly Brinkman and Thomas Puzak.

The course included a section of guided whitewater rafting on the Gauley River (up to class V rapids!), long treks, singletrack mountain biking, and a 6-mile riverboard that started at 7a.m. One racer from a competing team drew near hypothermia by the end of the riverboard section, pulling through and continuing on the race course after a re-fuel with some food.

Riverboarding on the New River; photo by Chris Radcliffe

It rained incessantly for the first 20 hours of the race, with every team drenched. Trails were slippery, rocky, and dotted with knee-deep puddles. The woods was thick. At night, lingering fog made headlamps almost unusable at points, with the LED light simply creating a wall of white reflecting moisture in front of the racers’ eyes.

Navigation was tough. Thick woods, steep climbs, cliffs, and long distances made procuring checkpoints a serious task. Top teams likely ran more than 40 miles on and off trail during the event on the trekking sections of the course alone. Racers were on their bikes for hours, and in total the race director estimated 30,000 feet of elevation change for the whole course.

Racer at an overlook checkpoint

In all, about 45 teams raced in the championship event. While the competition and the course were tough all around, throughout the whole race the GJ squad battled with Team Odyssey Adventure Racing-ImONPoint, who were the 2010 National Champions, as well as top-ranked Team SOG and Team Rev3Mountain Khakis.

In the end, GJ/WEDALI came out on top by two checkpoints and about 20 minutes of time. Team SOG took second place, Odyssey Adventure Racing-ImONPoint, 3rd.

The victory, the second win in a row for team captain Justin Bakken (who also captained the 2011 CP Tracker National Champs team), ranks GJ/WEDALI as a top domestic team and the No. 1 team in the Checkpoint Tracker race series, which includes dozens of events as well as hosts the National Championship race each fall.

The GJ/WEDALI racers would like to thank its fans and team sponsors Wenger, Fenix Lighting, and Platypus.

Running a trail, punch card around the neck, looking for a checkpoint flag; photo by Chris Radcliffe

In West Virginia, GearJunkie/WEDALI traveled together throughout the entire sleepless 30-hour event. They were the only race squad out of 45 teams to “clear the course” and get all available checkpoints.

“I thought it couldn’t be done,” said Ronny Angell, director of this year’s race and owner of Odyssey Adventure Racing. Noted Stephen Regenold, a founder of the team and Editor of GearJunkie.com, after the event: “It was tough, but we were glad to prove Ronny wrong!”

—We’ll post details on the gear used (and some destroyed) in the big event as well as personal perspectives from some of the racers on our squad. Follow GearJunkie/WEDALI throughout the season on our dedicated team micro-site.

Drama! Ronny Angell, race director, gets loud and enthusiastic at pre-race meeting

Team SOG took second place

Rain and more rain at race headquarters during event

3rd place: Team Odyssey Adventure Racing-ImONPoint (photo from 2010)

Instructions and rankings on the course at a checkpoint

Racer studies a map of the course

Editor of GearJunkie.com, Stephen Regenold, at the finish line; photo by Chris Radcliffe

Team kicks and swims on riverboarding section on the New River; photo by Chris Radcliffe

Middle of the night: A team is a bit haggard but pushing on; photo by Chris Radcliffe

Transition area: Gearing up for a bike leg mid-race; photo by Chris Radcliffe

Team GearJunkie/WEDALI’s Justin Bakken takes an unplanned swim on the New River; photo by Chris Radcliffe

A team emerges from the night; photo by Chris Radcliffe

Mountain biking singletrack trail at night was a big part of the race; photo by Chris Radcliffe

Awards in the tent, ready for closing ceremonies; photo by Chris Radcliffe

Handshake with competing team before a guided whitewater paddle section of course; photo by Chris Radcliffe