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Deliverance at the Last Frontier

Expedition Alaska promised to take Adventure Racing back to the more adventurous roots of the sport and, with a course set to raise the stakes in expedition racing, it delivered.

The race is one of the newest members of the AR World Series and attracted a full complement of 20 teams, 15 of them on the full course, including the world #1 ranked Columbia Vidaraid and #4 ranked Tecnu. It wasn’t surprising that Tecnu lead a strong US contingent, but perhaps more surprising was the presence of 6 teams from Australia or including Aussie racers. Maybe their experience of XPD Australia, the longest race in the World Series at 10 days, encouraged them to head for a race at ‘the Last Frontier’.

Race Director Dave Adlard had left no-one in any doubt of his intent to use the big and wild Alaskan terrain to create a big and wild adventure racing course and the opening stages of the race left no one in any doubt that’s what they’d signed up for!

Two early features of the race were a river crossing, which proved swifter and more testing than anticipated and in which at least one racer and one of the race media were swept downstream. The two teams on the guided, ‘Challenge Course’ took one look and decided not to cross, partly as the climb over the Eklutna Glacier lay on the other side.

This too lead to drama and to a rescue when Marco Anselem of Columbia Vidaraid fell into a crevasse. His team mates arrested the fall and other teams and race safety staff affected a rescue before he was flown out with an injured shoulder, but sadly the race had finished early for the world’s top AR team. At this early stage Team Tecnu were already moving into a lead, and it was one they were not to relinquish as they showed both resilience and resourcefulness, as well as endurance to meet the challenges of a course few other teams could manage.

After the wet start and the glacier crossing it wasn’t going to get any easier on a section Adlard had christened ‘the Soul Crusher’. This was a combined trekking and pack-rafting journey that pushed all the teams to their. The continuing wet conditions caused many teams foot rot problems and ‘Team Everest’ flipped their pack-raft and had to spend hours retrieving lost backpacks with essential equipment.

Only in expedition adventure racing could teams more used to mountain biking and foot trekking have to extend their skill set to pack-rafting and glacier crossing. Other hazards teams had to cope with were falls on the ice, getting cliffed out, and even an attack by angry wasps. The wildlife encounters could have been worse though. There were no grizzly bear encounters or problems with Moose … just a mouse in Tecnu’s kit bags eating their food!

In mid-race teams arrived at one of the show piece stages – the class IV and V rafting down the canyons of Six Mile Creek, which was untimed and guided for safety. It may be the hardest grade of rafting ever undertaken during an adventure race and a few teams were pulled out by their guides before the lower Class V sections.

It was only after this, on day 5 that teams got on their mountain bikes, for a 70 mile ride on the Resurrection Trail towards Seward, where there were more course options available to teams. Not that any had the strength to tackle them all as by this stage all had team members hobbling on sore feet and hanging tough.

There was one final stage, even after the teams finished in Seward. This was the 5km trek up and down the 3000’ foot Mount Marathon. This stage was the day after the famous trail race on the peak (won in a record time by Killian Journet) but the adventure race teams were in no hurry. The leaders simply wanted to complete it safely to secure their positions which were decided by who had completed most of the course. Tecnu took the win ahead of Yogaslackers, with Team Rogue of Australia third.

Rob Kinsley of Team Gung Ho said on the finish line; “Every stage was harder than any stage on any other race, and when you put all of those together … Dave was honest, Dave told everyone about it, told everyone it would be the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and people didn’t believe him.”

They do now and have had an Alaskan Adventure they will never forget!

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