by Nicola Cameron
As teams continue to pour in, conversations with teams help us piece together a more complete picture of the race.
Teams Bones arrived in a gale of emotion – after an incredibly challenging, fast, tight race, they let themselves go after the finish line and some team members shed a few tears. Especially the final bike ride, with the wind so strong it felt dangerous just to bike on the side of a road due to the very real possibility of a gust hurling you onto the asphalt.
Reflecting back on the experience of racing in China, Roy noted “it was near the end I think… I looked up and said: hey, we’re in China! The natural world – it could have been anywhere in the world.” Liza Pye reminisced about the final checkpoint – on a huge alpine plateau, with riders and horses decorating the landscape. “It’s so beautiful here.”
But the team got REALLY animated when they described their favourite moment in the race – finding a small well-kept barn to sleep in along with resident cows. “It was so warm and nice – it was the first time I really fell asleep.” One of the amazing elements of adventure racing is how it distills the world into basic human needs. You can cross the globe and race with nomads, but finding a cozy spot to sleep will in still be a peak experience.
Everyone’s favourite team, the Aussie Battlers, successfully battled their way to the finish line on the short course. Although their rental bikes appeared to be falling apart throughout the race (the brakes didn’t really work, and a rear wheel kept getting loose, and seats wouldn’t stay in position), the absolute worst moment of the race for them was getting up after a 4 hour sleep. “We were so lost at night – it was raining and we couldn’t see anything – so we opened our tent and it only fit three of us.” Even though the tent was regulation size, they hadn’t tested it out with all the Battlers.
Emily Rowbotham said “I was laughing a bit when we got in it at first – I was like “omg we’re so stupid.’” The 4th team member slept outside in a bivvy sac consisting of two garbage bags. “We woke up and we were all so wet – just soaking, and then I touched the ceiling and all this water poured in. And it was still raining and we still couldn’t see anything that matched the map.” They all roared recounting the story.
When I asked what the best moment of the whole experience was, they glowed. “Well, you know, EVERYTHING!” Said Emily. “I mean it was just so fun! We saw crazy camels and people riding – we saw a camel with a yurt packed up on the back!” Max Messenger noted how helpful everyone was: “they all smiled at us, offered us things – one guy gave us snacks and cigarettes from his truck and offered us a lift.” (no word on whether they accepted the cigarettes.)
I jokingly asked them what their next race was and they didn’t miss a beat: “The wild side in Canberra. We just need to train a bit more. I could really see from this that adventure racing is for… adventure racers. Like, we have a lot of work to do.” Looking forward to seeing what the team will do once they have purchased bikes of their very own.
Swedish team Latitude 63 raised eyebrows for everyone watching their progress when they elected to separate after the cut off for the short course – while the twin girls I dubbed “the gymnasts” because of their extremely tiny size and youth had continued on, their male team-mates had returned to the hotel. I asked Tim Larsson, who is a member of the army reserve in Sweden, and rescues downed planes in remote locations, if this meant that they were tougher than him, and he replied positively yes. “You know these squirrels? These Disney squirrels that talk all the time? (Chip and Dale) They are like that – always talking to each other and happy. They share everything – their food, their packs, their shoes.” When I caught up with the girls, I asked them if they would be racing separately on different adventure racing teams in the future and they looked distinctly annoyed at the idea. The Swedish adventure racing world will have to offer them some pretty good incentives to get them to join traditional teams.
With only five teams left to finish, the hallways of the Jindu hotel are starting to smell like wet gear, and tousled and sleepy adventure racers are prowling around looking for beer and ice cream and sharing race stories. All the signs of the completion of a successful expedition race are in place.