Expedition Oregon has always had a reputation for tough courses, and this year added ‘America’s Toughest Race’ to its title. The Race Directors made it clear they didn’t expect many finishers, so teams were in no doubt what to expect, and they relished the challenge of a technical and uncompromising expedition race even more. By the time they made the finish line at Prinesville they knew the race had lived up to its title, and had pushed them to new levels of endurance, teamwork and achievement. They had no doubt they’d been in America’s Toughest Race!
The route spanned 485km across the mountains, forests, lakes and rivers of Oregon, including 10,900m of climbing. Teams had to cope with high temperatures by day and the cold at night, at times they were trekking and pushing their bikes through snow, and on two contrasting pack rafting stages they paddled through rapids, and then spent long hours scrambling and carrying their boats over a rocky riverbed due to low water levels. Navigation and route choice were crucial, there were nerve racking climbing checkpoints, and they also had to raft and rappel with their bikes.
As a result of Covid and travel restrictions, this was the first Adventure Racing World Series race of the year, and the organisers, Bend Racing, went ahead with less teams and volunteers, but no compromise on the course and the experience they were offering. Although the 19 international teams who had originally entered could not make it, there were still two in the starting line of up of 36 teams.
Team La Jolla IVF/Vidaraid (Spain) are #2 in the ARWS rankings and were clear race favourites, and Team 4Regions Ecuador also made the journey to Oregon. Both had to make changes to get a team together and both included top US racers from the Quest team who won the last Expedition Oregon.
La Jolla IVF/Vidraid were joined by Mari Chandler and also brought in experienced Brazilian racer Helcio Terres, who lives in California and trains with regular team member Marco Anselem. The Ecuadorian team was joined Dusty Caseria, who said it was his first time racing with a team he didn’t know at all, and then found out none of the team had raced together before either!
From the start the race challenged the teams to get their tactics right, and to have the mental and physical resilience to survive 3 monster stages. On the start line teams could choose a steep climb to visit 3 optional checkpoints, or they could start the 100km pack raft on the north fork of the John Day River. Straight away teams had to decide if they were going for any optional checkpoints or wanted more daylight at the end of the paddle.
The rafting through the canyons and rapids along the river was fast and enjoyable, but one of the longest continuous pack rafting stages in the ARWS to date, taking even the fastest teams over 9 hours.
This was followed by a 145km bike ride with a huge elevation gain (4500m) so even the leading teams were spending the first 24 hours on the opening two stages. The slower teams took much longer. Then came a combined trek and pack raft stage of another 65km. Teams were carrying their rafts over the hills and, as it turned out, for much of the way down the river. Water levels dropped considerably and the river descent became a slow and mentally challenging scramble.
World class teams have better technique, better concentration over long stages, are much quicker in stage transitions and don’t slow down much at night, so it was no surprise that La Jolla IVF/Vidaraid opened up a good lead on the bike ride, and they were never closely challenged for the rest of the race.
Among the nearest chasing teams were 4Regions Ecuador, Checkpoint Zero and two Bend Racing teams, each with a difference and maybe a point to prove. Team Journey/Bend Racing was led by Chelsey Magness in a ‘reverse co-ed’ team (3 females and one male), while Team Recharge/Bend Racing included some world class local runners, but with very little adventure racing experience. By the finish these teams and La Jolla IVF/Vidaraid were the only ones to get all of the available checkpoints.
All other teams had to miss optional checkpoints or cut the route short to make it back to the finish, and the course was designed with this in mind. The later stages were shorter and more varied, including climbing and swimming, and the bike rappel and packraft, giving teams lots of options. (Race Director Jason Magness said that the first half of the course was America’s Toughest Race, and the later stages were more of a traditional adventure race.)
La Jolla IVF/Vidaraid completed the course in 79 hours 37 minutes, taking only 2.5 hours of sleep on the way. It was the 8th different World Series race they’ve won, more than any other team.
For Terres it was a special moment. “Expedition Oregon was the race of my life! After 17 years of racing I couldn’t be more grateful to be beside 3 legends like Marco (Aneslem), Urtzi (Iglesias) and Mari (Chandler).
Chandler said of the team, “They are fast, they are strong, they don’t sleep much, they don’t make mistakes and they don’t quit. I definitely spent moments of the race right on the edge of collapsing, but have learned from years of racing the mind can convince the body to do anything.”
The Spanish team will now be looking forward to racing on home soil at this year’s AR World Champs in Gallaecia in November. They’ve never won the World Title yet, maybe it’s their year.
Journey/Bend Racing finished second, and this is the first time a team with 3 female racers has been on an ARWS podium. The team comprised Katie Ferrington, Joseph Bellier, Rea Kolbl and Chelsey Magness.
“Our drive, tenacity and curiosity is what I believe helped us to get to the finish line in second place,” said Magness. “Even when the wheels almost came off at the end it was our communication, stubbornness, trust in one another and humility that carried us all to a second place finish.” (The team was being filmed for a documentary which will be called ‘Mandatory Gear’ and will debut at film festivals later in the year.)
4Regions Ecuador took the final podium place and Caseria said, “The race went about as well as I could have possibly imagined for our team. I had a blast racing with Dani (Costa Tobar), Juan (Manuel Lalama) and Daniel (Galarza).”
The next race in the series is the PC12 Adventure Race which starts on May 31st in Colombia.