A crisp morning in downtown Roanoke, Va., welcomed serious racers and first-time participants to our second annual “Treasure Hunt: Roanoke” event, held this past Sunday, Oct. 23. The event, a marquee piece in the weekend-long Roanoke Outdoor Circus festival, promised a choose-your-own adventure course where racers went on the hunt for points to cash in for gear. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of swag, including bikes, a kayak, GPS units, and many more substantial items, were on display near the start line as the racers lined up.
At 9a.m., with a callout of “Ready and GO!” the first heat of racers dashed off in a shotgun pattern to the streets of downtown Roanoke. There were 25 checkpoints spread around the city and up onto Mill Mountain, a significant peak that rises about 1,000 feet over town.
“Go, go, go!” shouted Ronny Angell, the day’s race director and principal of Odyssey Adventure Racing, the company who’d created the course and hidden checkpoint flags in the woods. GearJunkie.com’s John Peacock and Stephen Regenold cheered the dozens of runners and cyclists streaming out from the start gate.
For the next five hours, through three heats of racers, the 150+ participants in this year’s treasure hunt would run, climb, trek, crawl into a cave, and bike to far-flung destinations around the city. One checkpoint was atop Mill Mountain and below the city’s famous Star sculpture. Downtown green spaces and cafes were among the urban destinations. In the woods, checkpoints were hidden in deep ravines, on ridgelines, and, as noted, one was placed inside a cave, requiring racers to drop their backpacks and belly-crawl in to punch a flag.
“I can’t see the flag,” yelled one treasure hunter, his body pressed into the constriction of the small cave. He squinted and searched for the checkpoint flag, arms extending into the dark. Then his eyes adjusted slightly to the dark and the orange and white flag came into view. He grabbed the stamp and punched his race passport, a small card each participant carried to stamp at flags to prove they were there.
Throughout the day, solo racers and teams charted unique courses around the city and into the woods. Many participants slogged to the top of Mill Mountain, exhaustion on their faces if they took the direct route up the steep slopes covered in autumn leaves. “Insane,” one racer commented, his face dripping with sweat despite crisp fall temps. “Huge climb.”
Urban clues necessitated visiting old firehouses and iconic landmarks around downtown Roanoke. One checkpoint required racers to step inside an outdoor eating area at a cafĂ© and count the number of ceiling fans, an activity that caused weird looks from diners enjoying Sunday brunch.
By the end, despite exhaustion or navigational confusion — some racers got lost, others covered more than 15 miles on foot or bike — the race pack almost exclusively finished the event smiling. (See here for our full official race results.) Through the finish line area was “gear central,” a tent loaded like an REI store to the hilt with gear for each participant to win.
It was an adventure racer, Hans Heerens, who nabbed first place. He rode his bike on a circuitous but strategically-charted route around the city grabbing checkpoints. He climbed into Mill Mountain park on the roads, ditching his wheels near the edge of the woods multiple times to run into the trees and punch a flag. By the cut-off time of three hours on the course, Heerens had nabbed 24 of the 25 possible checkpoints, putting him into first place. “I can’t believe it!” he shouted, standing at the end. “I’m going to win a new bike!”
Heerens was already ogling a prize. In the gear tent, leaned against a table, Specialized’s $2,000 Carve Pro 29 mountain bike stood ready for the taking. At 3:30pm, the gear tent would open to the winners, and everyone would get to take one prize. As overall winner, Heerens was first in line, and he had 15 seconds to run in and grab the one item he wanted. “Defiantly going for the bike!” he reiterated before the gates to gear central were open.
Tied for second place, finishers Natalie Hall and Elliot Nuss, ran the whole course and procured 23 out of 25 checkpoints. Natalie had her eyes on a bike as her prize, the Raleigh Revenio 3 road bike, and Elliot planned to nab the boat, a Rip 12 kayak from Necky.
In the end, all the racers went home with substantial swag. From Griptilian knives from Benchmade, Magellan’s eXplorist 710 GPS device, the Earthmate PN-60 and the new inReach devices from DeLorme, Soulra portable sound systems from Eton, and much, much more. Congrats to all the racers! “Treasure Hunt: Roanoke” was a blast. We love this city and this venue. Hope to be back next year to do it all over again!