It’s the eleventh hour. Literally. But you’ve been up and moving for far longer. You find yourself on foot in the thick of a misty, foreboding forest of trees and blackness. You have a tiny yet powerful lamp strapped to your forehead as your only source of illumination, ’cause the sun dipped below the horizon hours ago. You can only hope the rustling leaves that perk up your ears are errant armadillos scurrying out of sight. And not alligators. Or bears. Or the Loch Ness Monster. The hair on the back of your neck stands on end. Are you cold? Are you scared? You’re not sure.
Thankfully, you’re not alone, and you’re not completely lost. You don’t think. Your partner in crime carries a zippered plastic bag around his neck, complete with maps that you both have poked and prodded multiple times, Sharpies, a compass, and a plotting ruler. Too bad these maps don’t have roads on them. Too bad roads aren’t always the easiest way to get from Point A to Point B anyway. And too bad the objective isn’t to get out of the forest completely unscathed or uninjured. Don’t even get me started as to the myriad of gear that you’re carrying on your back, either.
So what is your goal? To do whatever it takes – on foot, by land, via bike, through water, up cliffs, over uncompromising terrain – to find as many points as possible before the end. Whether the end is three hours, six hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, or even 30 hours away is up to you. All while “staying found.”
The shorter name for what some may call voluntary insanity? Adventure racing. And by golly, I am incredibly and almost inexplicably grateful for its existence, and its presence in my life.
I joined Houston Fit Adventure Racing in May 2009 on somewhat of a lark. I hadn’t done anything active since June 2008, when I ran a half-marathon in Alaska, and even that was an anomaly. I’d never been much of an athlete, although I’d always liked being active. Mostly because I’m always on some sort of genetic crack. Call me lucky; it’s natural. But post-high school, no activity ever held my attention long enough for me to call myself a runner or to declare my love for yoga, for example. I just wasn’t feelin’ the monotony of any of it.
Then something happened. I fell in love. Hopelessly, madly in love. With the possibilities that were adventure racing. The variety of disciplines. The fickleness of the races. The fact that you knew you would start, and you knew you would finish, but you didn’t quite know what would happen in the middle. Would you and your partner be in one piece? How hard would you run? How difficult would those mountain bike trails be? What would the current be like in the Bayou as you two paddled upstream? Would an alligator gar snap at your paddles and try to eat you both?
Sure, adventure racing is full of rules, and if you know me, you know I hate laws rules with a passion. But adventure racing’s rules never quite impeded how a race unraveled. We adventure racers know this. In the span of time between the starter whistle and exhausted crossing of the finish line, anything can happen. Top teams get flat tires, Texas novice teams handle the extreme humidity levels on ranches better than killer teams from Colorado. And because of this, one of the sayings you hear most often is, “That’s adventure racing!” ‘Cause that’s exactly what it is – a capricious crapshoot of a sport. You can’t predict an adventure. And it’s that elusive nature that makes you thirsty for more.
But wait. Was I actually – gasp! – exercising? On a regular basis? Heck, I couldn’t tell. I was having way too much fun.
If adventure racing was a male suitor, I would gladly offer my hand in marriage. Nah, I actually would’ve done it already. Without regrets, misgivings, or a second thought that it was “too soon.” Because of adventure racing, my body is strong. Because of adventure racing, my will is even stronger. Because of adventure racing, I have met some of the most inspiring, multifaceted individuals I’ve ever known. Because of adventure racing, I’ve learned how to trust people more than myself. Because of adventure racing, I look arguably decent in spandex. Because of adventure racing, I’m broke and I love it. Because of adventure racing, weekends that were once consumed with intoxication and exorbitant bar tabs are now filled with trips to bike trail havens in the hill country and surrounding environs. And guess what? I don’t miss the boozin’, one little bit. Which is quite a revelation for a former sorority broad that was voted Biggest Party Girl in her heyday.
Poison oak, sprained ankles, bruised ribs, broken collarbones, legs scratched like constellations in the sky, canoe flu, and every injury in between? It sounds like complete madness, but it makes complete sense to me. ‘Cause nothing in the world has done more for me than adventure racing has. And for that, I am nothing short of thankful.