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Salomon X-Adventure Race

Salomon X-Adventure Race
By Shannon Walker 

Team Outdoor Japan wins X-Adventure Men’s Division at Minakami

Fourteen teams participated in the X-Adventure race on July 2 in beautiful Minakami, Gunma. Each team consisted of three core members and a substitute, who in our case also doubled as our support crew and driver. The course was set over 150 kilometers of mountainous terrain with stages consisting of trail running, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking and canyoning.  

Thanks to some last-minute introductions from our editor here at Outdoor Japan and a dozen or so e-mail exchanges, Team Outdoor Japan was born. The team included seasoned adventure racer Tyce Mister from Saipan, myself from Tokyo and local Minakami rafting guides Damien “Grassy” Chee and Matt Shewchuk. The latter three are all fit but new to adventure racing.

At 6 a.m. on Saturday morning we set off wearing matching “flaming board shorts,” the only piece of common clothing that distinguished us as a team.

At the time, it was difficult to imagine we would be finishing 31 hours later on Sunday afternoon. What follows are a few highlights (and lowlights) of what happened in between.  

Course details were secret until maps were handed out on the morning of the race start. There was a map for each stage with several checkpoints marked on them. There was no set course, so we plotted our route and checked it against the compass and altimeter as we went along. 

We finished the first mountain bike section effortlessly and moved onto the trail run section, where we blazed up Mt. Hotaka collecting all the checkpoints—or so we thought. 

After coming down the other side of the mountain, with the next stage transition area in our sights, we marched back up the mountain with some obligatory swear words to grab the last checkpoint we missed. This eventually meant we missed the cutoff time for that stage, resulting in a time penalty. Nevertheless, it was early in the race, and we were all in high spirits.

The kayak section was straightforward. The paddling power of Grassy and Matt made it feel as if we had an outboard motor on the back of the kayak. We managed to close a bit of time here and move through to the next section where we really cranked up the pace. 

This stage only allowed two bikes for four people, so two people ran and two people rode in leapfrog style. (Yes, it was against the rules to have two people on the each bike.)

As the sun was setting, we were on our bikes again for a long mountain bike stage. This is where things began to get tough. It was around 10:30 at night, and we were pushing our bikes uphill, seemingly lost up some mountain in the dark, drizzling cold rain with hunger and fatigue kicking in. 

The path seemed to disappear, and just as we were about to give up and skip the checkpoint, we found the right path. Miraculously the cold and hunger were instantly forgotten and morale was back.

At some time around 2 a.m. we rolled into the campsite. Day 1 was finished.  

Day 2 started at 4 a.m. It was still raining, and sleep deprivation made us zombies as we heaved ourselves down to the river for the rafting stage. This is where Grassy was in his element. He handed each of us carbon paddles and was adamant we were to blitz this stage. 

A splash of cold river water on the face instantly revived us, and we were off, charging down the river under Grassy’s keen navigation. This gave us a five-minute lead-time before getting back on the bikes for a killer hill climb. 

Our high spirits were dashed after a navigation error meant we had to go back for a checkpoint and do the hill climb all over again. Since we had been in front, it hurt passing the other teams going in the opposite direction.  

Again, we missed the cutoff time for the next trail run stage by a few minutes. I was personally glad. By this stage, I just wanted to finish the bloody race and have a cold beer and a local hot spring. This was powerful motivation.

The final stage was canyoning, so we rubbered up in wetsuits and galloped down the stream. To be honest, it was a bit anti-climactic to finish the race with a mediocre canyoning course; however, the final stretch was a zip line from a bridge into the river where we staggered out to cross the finish—as a team.

For a team of nearly strangers who had met only a day before the race, we crossed the line as good mates, albeit tired ones. 

Considering we missed a few checkpoints and received quite a few time penalties, we had no expectations we would be one of the top placing teams. So when they called Team OJ to come on stage, we were bewildered to learn we had won the men’s division. Our official time was 34 hours and 23 minutes.

Adventure racing is just that—an “adventure.” It’s not about the fastest team, it’s about the team having the most fun, and I think Team OJ managed that well. X-Adventure was a well-organized race I highly recommend it to anyone looking to give adventure racing a go.  

And, yes, I enjoyed that cold beer. 

Salomon X-Adventure Race

July 2. 2010