It’s 10 am at the Corbin, KY Wal-Mart. As we wait in the vestibule amidst the flashing lights of the pinball machine and slow drawl of the greeter’s “welcome to Wal-Mart”, I spot them…Buddha Power Beads, promising strength and happiness to all who wear them. Buddha Power Beads have suddenly become mandatory race equipment. Two quarters and a crank of the knob on the gumball machine and they’re ours!

Siddhartha Gautama founded Buddhism while sitting under a Bodhi tree. While meditating, he found enlightenment and became The Buddha, also known as The Enlightened One. He then dedicated his life to teaching The Four Noble Truths:
All existence is full of suffering;
Suffering arises from the constant effort to find comfort and stability in an uncertain world;
Suffering can be relieved; and
Relief from suffering (Nirvana) can be achieved by following eight steps:

  • “Right” thought
  • Actions
  • Understanding
  • Speech
  • Livelihood
  • Effort
  • Mindfulness
  • Concentration

Siddhartha Gautama must have known about Adventure Racing.

The race began for us on Wednesday evening. As we arrived at Cindy’s house, she was in the middle of an epic phone call with REI in Nashville, trying to find out why the headlamp she had ordered several days ago had not arrived. After much threatening, REI agreed to ship the headlamp to our hotel in Kentucky and we were off to load the car. Amazingly enough, we were able to load everything in the car, strap the bikes to the back of the van, and roll.  

After a long drive through much of the night and a very brief stay at the Day’s Inn-Louisville, we arrived at the race headquarters. Our plan: Check in, get to the hotel, unload, eat, and sleep. All is well so far. No suffering…yet. 

At the pre-race meeting, we learned our fate. We would start at 4 am with a bushwhack/swim section through Laurel Lake. We would then pick up the bikes for a 45 mile ride through dirt and paved roads along with what would prove to be a tough singletrack section. On to the inflatable kayaks for an 8 1/2 mile paddle down the Cumberland River and then, for the first time, we would see our support crew. Next up would be a monster trekking section mixed with several rope segments. Expected trekking time: 13 hours minimum. Another 50 miles of biking would lead us to the boats for a final 10 mile push to the finish. All existence is full of suffering.

The swim/bushwhack section was exciting. Cindy had the idea before the race to bring swim fins and it paid off huge! We were able to jump in the water, float on our backs holding our packs, and motor along. It was cruel fun to create a wake while passing struggling competitors. We choose to do a little bit of bushwhacking after the first swim instead of just jumping back into the water and that cost us some time. Despite that error, we still improved our position steadily through this section of the race moving from 28th at the first checkpoint to 22nd at the bike pick up.

The bike ride began innocently enough with 8 miles of roads. We’re thinking to ourselves, this is easy! Once we hit the singletrack, things changed. The scenery along the Sheltowee Trail was great, passing by towering 200 foot rock faces and walking beneath small waterfalls. But tough was not the most appropriate word for this stretch of trail. The trail was littered with downed trees and sharp rock gardens turning a good ride into an agonizing 10 mile hike-a-bike. At one point, we were hiking with another team who asked when we were expecting to arrive at Checkpoint 4. I stopped and stared. “Checkpoint 4″? I asked. “We passed it about an hour ago. The look of fear on their faces as they realized the mistake is unforgettable. More suffering, but this time it’s not us. We were thankful to finally reach the road after five hours of singletrack hiking. The first hill on the road was long and brutally hot. I thought we were going to touch the sun. Once on the road, we had only two hours to go 27 miles to reach the boats by the cutoff time. Smart decision making and map reading helped us as we made it with not a second to spare. Sitting in 22nd place, we were the last team to officially get in the boats.  We thought that getting to the boats was our saving grace. Suffering arises from the constant effort to find comfort and stability in an uncertain world.

I truly believe that “Sevylor” stands for “Yellow Boat from Hell”. Ray and I took one boat and Cindy and Randy the other. Ray and I couldn’t get the boat to go in a straight line to save our lives. We tried everything…Short strokes, long strokes, synchronized paddling, un-synchronized paddling, switching positions, sitting on the floor, sitting on our knees, using the rear paddle as a rudder and allowing the front person to paddle, towing. We even took the paddles apart and tried to use them like a canoe paddle. Nothing worked! If we hadn’t dumped our fins with the bikes, we’d have gotten out and swam. We were able to get about three paddles strokes and the boat would turn. We tried correcting strokes and they made it worse. We tried to correct from the front using a sweep, from the rear using a j-stroke, back paddling. Again, no luck. Instead, we turned in circles for four painful hours. We got to the boat landing at 11 pm and finally sat down with the crew. 

We only had a few minutes to debate the rest of the race and felt the
pressure from the race organizers to make a decision. In our minds at that time, we felt the best decision was to stop. Suffering can be relieved.  Many factors led to this decision, which I still struggle with for many reasons. However, the mental aspect of the upcoming challenge, the physical aspect, the frustration of being in the boat, etc. all built up to our decision to stop.

I’ve thought about this choice ever since that moment, knowing that up to now I’ve never voluntarily quit any race, of any type. I took it very hard and in part still feel responsible. At one point during the debate, I was asked by the team to make a decision, to judge the team’s readiness to continue and
chose to stop based on everything I saw at that point. Looking back, I feel that I let the team down by giving them the answer they wanted to hear at that point in time, but not the answer that they needed to hear and would be happiest with in the long run. Even though we had no chance of finishing the complete event based on the remaining time, I would much rather have stopped due to the race organizers sweeping us off instead of our choice.  

As it turns out, only two out of the thirty-five starting teams actually finished the race as ranked teams and the entire second paddling section was eliminated for that to happen. The fastest team through the trekking section, originally expected to be 23 hours, took 18 hours. Congratulations to Team Mid-America Xtreme/Rajalta Rajalle and Team Celebrex on your performance! Kip Richards and the Pathfinder Crew, great job setting a tough course. Thanks for your work!  

Despite our setbacks, we had a great time as a team. We laughed a lot and we’re stronger for our next event. Adventure Racing is about learning. It’s learning about yourself, your abilities, both mental and physical. Your personal limits and those of the others around you. I’ve learned much from this race.  
Relief from suffering (Nirvana) can be achieved by following eight steps:
“Right” thought.  Open your mind to the big picture. Don’t consider what’s happening now. Instead, think about your goal.

Actions. Your decisions affect more than yourself. Be aware of the consequence of your actions.

Understanding. Listen to your team and put yourself in their shoes. Not everyone feels the same at all times and you need to be there to support them during the good and bad times.

Speech. Make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

Livelihood. Don’t make Adventure Racing work. It’s fun. Enjoy yourself above all.

Effort. Never give up.

Mindfulness. Learn from mistakes.

Concentration. Stay in the game. Everyone else is having trouble too.

The Buddha Power Beads are tucked away safely and will make their return at the next race!

73 Responses to “Pathfinder Challenge 2001”

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