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Adventurous racers face rough routes

Sylas Wright

Outside of the normal daily grind, Team Thin Air is in full adventure race mode, a must when a pair of 24-hour races land on consecutive weekends.But with the grueling race at Kirkwood last Saturday and Sunday out of the way, team members can take a deep breath – that is, until next weekend’s 24-hour adventure race in Santa Barbara. “With Kirkwood being so tough, it makes all the other races seem that much easier,” said Susan Bower of Truckee, who along with husband Scott and friends Thomas Bastis, Mats Jansson and Tim Farrar make up Team Thin Air.

The local team, in slightly more than 18 hours, tied for fourth place at Kirkwood – which was one of five Explore California 24-Hour Race Series events this year – and is always a threat to swipe first place, like on June 25 when they won the Big Blue Adventure Series Red Tail (6- to 12-hour) race in the Bay Area.The competitionIf anyone on one of the 16 competing teams last weekend was unaware of Kirkwood’s sheer size and wide variety of gnarly terrain, by Sunday evening they were well aware.

That’s because they faced a nine-mile trek to open the race, a 30-mile mountain bike ride, a five-mile kayak paddle and another 20-mile bike ride. That was on Saturday. On Sunday they did another five miles on a kayak, followed by 18 miles on a bike and five miles on foot. And other than the backcountry kayaking, there’s not much flat traveling. “This race kicked people’s butts from 9 a.m. on Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday,” race director Rich Brazeau said. “It’s a real tough course. You have to be ready for it.”And while racers have to be in physical enough of shape to complete the 95 or so miles, it’s impossible to be fully prepared for a race in which no information is provided until minutes before the starting gun.

“The element of surprise in adventure racing is what draws me to it,” Susan Bower said. “It’s the adventure of not knowing what you’re getting into. Nothing is a given.”Another draw, Bower said, is the navigating required in adventure racing. Since teams are given topographical maps with plotted check points, the fastest do not necessarily win – the team taking the best routes does. And while endurance is obviously key in covering long distances in a short period of time, without the benefit of a motorized vessel, adventure racing is a whole different ballgame than ultrarunning.”It’s totally different in that you have to navigate and work as a team,” Bower said. “I love working with a team because your team is only as fast as the slowest person. In Western States (100-Mile Endurance Run), the fastest person is going to win.”In (adventure racing) you can make navigation mistakes that hurt you. It’s such a mentally fun game.”


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