The third edition of Expedition Oregon will be May 12-17, 2020. Since it first launched in 2018, the event has become one of the most competitive and technical expedition races on the ARWS circuit. With the ongoing motto, “Become your own Legend”, the race organization prides itself on pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the sport.
The 2018 event saw competitors pack rafting class III+ whitewater, biking over 60 miles of single track, roped rock climbing, and rappelling a 300′ vertical cliff with their mountain bikes strapped to their backs.
The 2019 event also included miles of single track and class III whitewater, with the addition of a snow mountaineering section, and a 3-pitch rock climb which two team members had to lead on their own.
With so many skilled elements in a race, Expedition Oregon is limited to 25 teams, and the race boasts a unique point to point format that allowed every single team to finish in the 2019 edition. The 2020 edition is nearly sold out already, with many teams from the past editions returning.
We caught up with Race Director Jason Magness to ask him about his course design philosophy and hopefully get some hints into what is coming in 2020.
Ok, based on what we’ve heard, your races often feel more like an expedition than a race. Is this intentional?
I was first captivated with the sport of expedition racing as an outlet for my need for exploration – not competition. As a world-class climber I spent my 20’s pioneering remote rock climbing ascents if far-flung places – often using bikes and rudimentary pack rafts as means of access. For a number of years, before I started racing on the ARWS circuit, my twin and I created and completed 4 “Too much fun” expeditions – essentially self-supported adventure race style trips that included technical climbing, skiing, pack rafting, mountain biking. Each time we scared ourselves and suffered a lot. And it was amazing. He had two toddlers at home so had some pretty hard cut-offs to get home and still stay married. So basically it was a race, just without the safety net. And if he made it out in time to make the plane home and stay married – we won. So yeah – I am always searching for that feeling when I am designing races. And the fact that teams just keep getting better, just means I can keep adding “more fun”.
I know that you raced a lot before you started directing races. Which is more rewarding – racing or designing races?
Well, I still race quite a bit, but now also put on 3-5 events each year too. I’ve done well over 100 expedition races and am still excited about racing. But now racing is as much research focused – really studying what makes for an amazing event from a racers perspective. But I also consider race directing as the ultimate AR training. I am trying to build a course that will test and satisfy the best teams in the world. And I vet every inch of that course with my racing team (Bend Racing/YogaSlackers). Since we have top teams coming to our events it is important that we determine a “fast time”, so when we are out there we get good training in. So yeah – it is beautiful. I race to be a better course designer, and I design courses to become a better racer.
Ok, so what is up with your fascination with pack rafting, climbing, and crazy rappels with bikes?
I did and ARWS race a number of years ago that had some class III+ paddling in two-person rafts. They told everyone about it in all the pre-race communications and told them to train, as there would be no guides captaining their boats. It was chaos. We trained and cruised through it all, but 80% of the teams needed assistance from the safety staff and the race director was not happy. In the closing ceremony, he gave a speech calling on racers to “step up” to the challenge of actually doing a race as if they were on their own. I realized that the technical portions of many races were being dumbed down, so much that teams were showing up to these sections expecting to essentially be taken care of by the staff – or trained in how to do things. Especially in rope and whitewater. Sitting there my former expedition self was a bit ashamed of the state of the AR community at that moment. So I decided to start including serious technical sections in all of my races. They are always “optional”, but if a team does not possess the skills to do it on their own, they do not receive credit for those checkpoints. And I will not dumb down my races to make them accessible to everyone. Quite the opposite. Finishing a full course with every CP in one of my events probably means that you are among the top 50 teams in the world. Even my 6-hour races. Seriously. And I am not ashamed of it. There are plenty of amazing fun races out there that are designed to make all the racers have fun and feel good about themselves. But that is not my (or Expedition Oregon’s) focus.
When I do add these technical sections, I try to make them relevant to the course, not just for photos. The bike rappel allowed racers to connect a trail that went to the top of a cliff (they were riding in from above), to the trail system at the bottom. The 3-pitch lead climb took teams to the top of an iconic spire in Smith Rock that is only accessible via that route. I don’t feel the need to have racers hike to the bottom of a cliff, hike up, and then rappel back down just to get good photos.
So what can you tell us about Expedition Oregon 2020?
I can tell you some pretty exciting things. First, we are almost sold out! We have an amazing roster of teams already committed, with numerous teams from the ARWS top 20. We do have just a few spots left, especially for international teams. Right now we have 10 countries represented. Second, without needing to market the race (since we are nearly full), we have turned our attention to creating the most amazing media surrounding the event. The past two years we’ve had some of the best coverage in the sport (thanks to all the talent that came out – you know who you are!), and we’ll go even bigger this year.
As far as the course – it is big and remote, and I am truly jealous of all the racers that get to come explore this area. While I do not want to give away too much, here is what I can say:
- More than 300 miles
- 70 miles of whitewater (mostly class II)
- Rugged technical single track with some massive climbs and hair raising descents. Central Oregon is world-famous for XC mountain biking for a reason
- Lots of off-trail navigation, route choices, and some unique navigation/teamwork opportunities.
- Umm, you might need to swim something, attach your bike to your pack raft at some point, climb something, and rappel something. Maybe even with your boat. Who knows. Oh, and you’ll probably encounter some snow and some really hot places.
- I like to say it will be an “old school” adventure race with “new school” live media coverage.
Any final words?
I just want to take a moment to thank all the racers that have taken the time to race one of our events over the past 15 years, and to all the race directors that have put on the events that I have done. It is a wonderful community, and I am honored to be a part of it.
For more information, or to grab one of the last Expedition Oregon spots, visit:
Photos: Expedition Oregon