With any human pursuit, there are specialists and there are generalists. So it is within the world of outdoor endurance sports. There are those who specialize in one thing, such as running Bloomsday, period. Call them "specialists": one event, once a year -- that's it.
Then there are those people who pursue multiple outdoor activities, like biking, skiing and kayaking, and feel the need to do them all at once in a manic burst of competition. There are a couple of expressions people use to describe such fanatics, but let's just keep it clean and call them "generalists."
It's because of generalists that the sport of adventure racing was invented. There are no hard and fast rules as to what exactly an adventure race is, but generally it's a multi-discipline outdoor race that usually (but not always) includes mountain biking, trail running, skiing and kayaking.
Adventure racing is a fairly new invention, emerging from the ongoing hybridization of extreme outdoor and endurance sports. In the 1970s, the marathon was the thing to do; then, in the '80s, the triathlon took over. It's the latest in the ongoing pursuit to invent new ways of challenging the threshold of human endurance -- and for some people, a way to remind everyone else that they're in really good shape. Adventure racing has also become one of the fastest-growing sports, due in large part to television coverage of more extreme races like the Eco Challenge.
Probably the most well-known of all the adventure races, the Eco Challenge is an event which lasts 10 days and which has participants racing more than 300 miles across remote jungles, deserts and mountains on foot, bike, boat, and, in some cases, on the back of a camel.
"Oh, it's the craze now," says Korey Korfiatis, marketing guy for an adventure race in Wenatchee called the Ridge to River Relay. "When ESPN creates a magazine called EXPN, you know there's a market for this kind of thing."
If any this fits your definition of fun, you're in luck. There are a number of one-day, multi-sport adventure races in the region in the next couple of weeks. (Alas, none of them involve swamp crossings or camel racing.)
Korfiatis says Ridge to River, coming up on April 13, is one of the biggest multi-sport races in the area. It's certainly one of the oldest. This will be the 23rd year for the popular race, which saw 1,800 competitors last year. The event attracts elite triathletes and and adventure racers from around the Northwest, but Korfiatis says 80-90 percent of the racers are "just weekend warriors from the community."
The race is 35 miles in length, starting at the 6,800-ft. summit of Mission Ridge and finishing on the banks of the Columbia River. The race consists of six legs: a 3-mile cross country ski leg at the summit, a 2-mile alpine skiing-and-snowboarding segment, a 4.5-mile run, 19-mile bike, a 9-mile canoe or kayak through Class I and II water in the Wenatchee and Columbia River, and finally, a half-mile portage sprint to the finish, in which teams must carry their boats while Ironmen and
-women must carry their paddles and life vests.
Korfiatis says the race symbolizes the transitional nature of the season: "It's cool, because you go from winter to summer in one race." There are several categories for team and individual competition. New this year is a category called "duo adventure," which allows for teams of two to work together much as with the strategy used in the larger adventure races.
In this category, both team members do every event together, as opposed to a team relay, in which different teammates do different events. "It's more catered to the true adventure race where you have to work with your teammate and each go through the transitional zones together to qualify," says Korfiatis.
For first-timers, Korfiatis says the boat leg can be the most critical. "The boat is where a lot of expertise is used and a lot of time can be made up if you've got a quick boater." He says that for many solo competitors, the most difficult transition is from the run to the bike: "After you've done the other three events -- the alpine, cross country and run -- then all of a sudden you've got to hop on a bike. It's like, "Damn, that hurts.'" Korfiatis says his goal is to have the Ridge to River be a televised event and to continue to grow: "For all those Ironman competitors," he says, "come challenge some of these guys who've been winning all these years. We'd like to see some new blood."
Another similar event will take place a little closer to home on April 12. Southbowl to Sandpoint is a 26-mile, six-stage event in just its third year. Entries are limited to just 100 racers in this intriguing event.
The course starts with a hike up Schweitzer in snowshoes, ski boots or cross country skis and skins, followed by a 3-mile alpine ski leg, a 1-mile cross-country ski, a 15-mile bike ride down from Schweitzer Village to Sandpoint City Beach, a 2-mile kayak or canoe on Lake Pend Oreille, finishing with a 3-mile run back at City Beach. Toby Feuling, owner of Alpine Designs, which sponsors the event, says that while it's a challenging course, "the emphasis is on fun." The entry fee is only $15. Information on Ridge to River: (509) 662 8799 or www.r2r.org Information on Southbowl to Sandpoint: (208) 263-9373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two more events to consider include the Gap to Gap and Ski to Sea races. Gap to Gap is a 47-mile, five-leg race in Yakima on May 31. Info: (509) 453-8280. Ski to Sea, in Bellingham on April 27, covers 82.5 miles from Mt. Baker to Bellingham, with seven different legs: cross country, downhill, running, biking, canoe, mountain biking, and sea kayaking.
And finally, a two-day adventure racing clinic, hosted by Northwest Adventures, will take place in Ellensburg on the weekend of April 12-13. For more info, contact Justin Yeager at (253) 709-8232 or go to www.northwest-adventures.com.