In our debut race for this summer, the newly-formed Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers pushed for 6 hours and 16 minutes to take first place in the MNOC Adventure-O! The race, an annual event that’s among the longest-running in the country, is managed by the Minnesota Orienteering Club and this year (the race’s tenth iteration) it was organized by the current USARA National Champions, Team WEDALI.
A hot day greeted the 30 teams who lined up in the southern Minnesota town of Albert Lea on this past Saturday, July 9, to begin the race. Ahead was promised “a mix of urban and backwoods adventure including flat-water paddling, on- and off-road biking, team challenges and plenty of navigation for orienteering junkies.” Sounded perfect to me!
At the “GO!” Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers sprinted off with a map in hand to find a half-dozen checkpoints in a city park. The day’s race, a “sprint” in the nomenclature of the sport, had a cutoff time of eight hours. Unlike the multiday races that have been a specialty of Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers the last two years (most notably the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race in Chile), sprint events are super fast-paced, requiring quick thinking and high heart rates for hours on end.
Our team for the day, a four-person coed squad, included myself, Thomas Puzak, Kelly Brinkman, and Andrei Karpov, all Minnesotans who I have raced and trained with for years. We bobbled one checkpoint on the prologue run, but managed to still make it back to the start area a few seconds ahead of the 2nd place team.
The MNOC Adventure-O, a part of the Checkpoint Tracker National Series, included multiple maps with foot orienteering sections, bike legs, kayaking, and “strategic portaging” throughout. After the initial orienteering section, we put on helmets and bike shoes to roll off toward the challenges beyond.
On our tail for the first bike leg — and indeed almost all day long! — was Andy Magness and Phil Nicolas, a last-minute team dubbed “2 Midwest Dudes.” Nicolas is an experienced racer who’s raced on Team Mantis and Bike Iowa, and Magness is a member of Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers’ roster. He would be competing against the mothership in Minnesota for the day! The pair, both fit and fast, would prove to be our biggest challenge for the race.
Mapwork is a hallmark of the MNOC Adventure-O, and as such teams received new maps at almost every transition area for this year’s race. At the second orienteering section, we grabbed a satellite map pre-marked with checkpoints. Ahead lay about 45 minutes of running through rolling prairie and on park trails, including a “bonus swim” through a mucky lake to a checkpoint flag.
The day rolled on with biking, a kayaking section with optional portaging through city streets (we took every “option” possible!), and a penultimate tough orienteering course in a state park. Temps peaked past 90 degrees F, and the sun blazed. We fought leg cramps and swallowed electrolyte pills. At each flag, myself or Kelly (our strongest runner) would sprint ahead the last few feet to punch the control card.
Drama hit Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers on the final leg. We returned to the final transition area to find a flat tire on Tom’s bike. A quick change and we were moving. Now in first place, and with just five miles in the race to go, we rode not 10 minutes before we heard a sickening “pssssssst!” sound from Tom’s front tire — another flat. A C02 cartridge and two minutes of “pit crew”-style tire changing later we were biking again. But. . . wait, the back tire was now looking iffy. A couple miles later and Tom was riding on a rim — three flats within five miles, bad luck to say the least!
No time to change another flat, and only minutes from the end, we inflated the rear tire with another C02 and prayed it would hold. A few minutes later, exhausted and limping in on the damaged set of wheels, we crossed the finish line to cheers — a victory despite the drama at the end. Less than 10 minutes later, Magness and Nicolas came into view and crossed the line, taking second place overall.
The MNOC Adventure-O marks the first in a series of races this season for Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers. My regional squad will race this coming weekend in Wisconsin’s 30-Hour Stubborn Mule, and later this month Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers’ national squad cues up for one of the biggest challenges of the year, the Raid the North Extreme, a six-day expedition race in British Columbia. Stay tuned to GearJunkie.com for race coverage as well as a team micro-site to be launched later this month. Race on!