A smothering heat overtook the land by 8a.m. Then at 9, the signal to start the event sounded off, “Go, go, go!,” shouted the race director. It was July 14th, a Saturday, and the occasion was the 11th Annual Adventure-O Race, an endurance event organized by the Minnesota Orienteering Club.
As a part of the Nationwide Checkpoint Tracker Series, the Adventure-O is an event with a reputation for tough navigation and serious mapwork required. Our course this year, which started in a state park on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin, included multiple “trekking” sections (most racers run these); two paddles on the river; road biking; and an hour or more of serious singletrack mountain biking on the slopes of a nearby ski area.
Racers teamed up in groups of two or four. The goal was to find checkpoint flags strewn throughout a large wilderness area. We had eight hours to “clear the course” and punch our card at each of the 30+ checkpoints hidden in the woods.
GearJunkie sponsored two squads this year at the Adventure-O, both four-person teams with men and women, and thus we had a substantial presence at the event. We prepared separately before the race, each of the GJ squads deciding to compete for the win alone. It’d be Team GearJunkie/WEDALI against Team GearJunkie.com, a friendly fight from the signal to race hard until the very end!
Ten minutes before the race started the organizers handed out directions and maps. Inside a packet were at least five maps, a cluesheet for the checkpoints, and a set of instructions for the multi-discipline course. With Justin Bakken, captain of GearJunkie/WEDALI, I scrambled to find a route around the big course, marking trails and routes on the river with a highlighter pen.
A couple minutes later and we were sprinting in the woods, maps and instructions in hand. The temps were swelling up already, and the air was so humid it felt hard to breathe.
We ran for a bit less than an hour on an initial orienteering leg. This led to the river and a put-in for our boats. We canoed north on wavy water, dipping and pulling on paddles in an attempt to catch two teams ahead.
Over the next six hours, our squad fought the heat, map route choices, steep singletrack, and exhaustion or dehydration brought on by the sweltering July day. We were walking some sections that in any other race we would’ve run — the heat was truly crushing, and we could not get enough water down.
In the end, the two GearJunkie squads would indeed do serious battle as the race neared the finish line. On a penultimate orienteering leg our two squads leapfrogged between first and second place, with tricky navigation and varying route choices pushing one group ahead and then the next.
A final “bonus” checkpoint in a deep ravine included a steep descent into a valley, a swim across a creek — life jackets were mandatory! — and then the slippery ascent of a limestone crack in a cliff. I climbed ahead of my teammates to tag the final flag, an orange and white marker tied atop a moss-covered shelf.
But it was too late to try and catch our alter egos by then. Team GearJunkie.com was already at the bottom of the valley and making its way across the stream toward the final climb to the end. Led by Andrei Karpov, the squad ran together to the finish line about six and a half hours after the race start, claiming victory on the course.
GearJunkie/WEDALI came in second place, running to the end about four minutes behind the first-place GJ team. All eight of us — from both the GearJunkie squads — high-fived and hugged. We collapsed and poured water over our bodies, beat and overheated and happy to be at the end.
—Stephen Regenold is editor and founder of GearJunkie.