A bone-crunching, soggy endurance test with Missouri's least elite adventure racers 

Page 5 of 5

So is the adventure part of the race. Watching empty Keystone Light cans sail down footwide rain rapids forming in the ditches makes me long for the five-and-a-half-mile canoeing stage that we tackled earlier in the day, down Grand Glaize Creek. About halfway through that leg, we tried squeezing between the bank and a dead tree, only to find the roots of the trunk sticking too far up in the water for the boat to pass. Lamb and Jenkins paddled hard to redirect the boat, sending us toward another tree arching over the water. "Limbo!" Lamb shouted from behind. In front of me, Jenkins ducked. Lamb palmed my head and shoved it toward the belly of the boat as we passed under the tree with our skulls intact.

There are no such thrills on this hike. It's just one sloshing step after another. Quarter-sized blisters sprout on my feet, so moist and white that my toes look like they've been dipped in vanilla frosting.

As we get within three or four miles of the end, the rain stops, and teams that have completed the race begin passing us in their cars as they drive from the finish line to their campsites and hotel rooms to change clothes. Friendly teams stop and chat with us. After two or three teams tell us that we're "getting close," my motivational thought becomes punching the next person who encourages us. I tell myself after every turn in the road that this is the last turn. But it never is. They're all lying.

Throughout the endless slog, Lamb and Jenkins keep up a steady banter, and they bait me into the discourse, like I'm one of them, like I belong here. Our conversations range from how to spot buck rubbings to why snow is the best substance in the woods to use as toilet paper. This jocular camaraderie is their best recruitment tool, and it's surprisingly effective. I catch myself thinking of ways to plan better for the next race, before I mentally scream at myself that there will not be a second race. This happens over and over, as though I'm being indoctrinated into the world's friendliest and best intentioned cult.

The other racers were telling the truth. After about five hours of walking, we make the final turn, down a driveway to a park meeting hall where an inflated orange-and-white finish line awaits. A dozen people are there cheering for Team Virtus.

Inside, we find the cooler of baked potatoes and hold them against out bodies and stuff them in our pockets, using them to warm up before eating. Jenkins shoves one under each armpit. We eat bowls of hot chili and potatoes and drink cold beer. Nobody is surprised that Bushwhacker, a strong team from Illinois, came in first with a time of six and a half hours and all 30 checkpoints punched. Team Virtus limped across the line in 10 hours and 30 minutes, with only eight checkpoints found — a disaster even by Team Virtus' standards.

The fistful of ibuprofen that Lamb gave me immediately following the wreck has worn off, and I have begun to fantasize about amputation. But tonight, as Lamb pilots the Virtus Van back to the cabin, on miles of the same asphalt we walked over hours earlier, I'm helpless to stop the stream of ideas about how to run this race right in the future. I would pack shoe insoles, an extra rain slicker, hand warmers. Maybe I should buy a bike. Lamb drives the van fast, taking corners blind on the unlighted park roads, and I find myself hoping that he'll go faster. What has Team Virtus done to me? I've completely forgotten that adventure racing is not right.

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