By Clark Fair
Photo by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter. Faces brimming with tentative optimism, the K-Pen Cats take a moment for a group photograph just before the start of the 2012 “Bushwhack This!” adventure race. Left to right are Mike Crawford, Yvonne Leutwyler and Clark Fair.
Lying inside a down bag in the bed of my truck, I had almost drifted off to sleep when another burst of automatic weapon fire jolted me awake.
I cracked open my weary eyelids, noted the graying skies of evening, and wondered if the shooters were ever going to tire. For three hours now, and with a wide assortment of guns, they had been plugging away at targets propped against a copse of birch trees on the nearby hillside.
Just then, a trio of four-wheeler riders blasted past us, jumping a nearby ditch and roaring off into the gloom down inky trails dotted with puddles and lined with sprawling alders. It was nearly 9 p.m. Our race was slated to start at midnight, with a prerace meeting scheduled for about 10. I doubted I would get a moment of real sleep before the race began.
Nestled in her own bag, my teammate, Yvonne Leutwyler, had remained motionless throughout the latest artillery barrage. Either she had actually managed to drift into a sleep deep enough to escape the noise or she was simply remaining stoically still. Ensconced in the cab of the truck, my other teammate, Mike Crawford, also seemed immobile.
We were entered as a coed team in the 2012 “Bushwhack This!” adventure race, billed as a 12-hour competition encompassing approximately 40 miles of mountain biking, orienteering, trekking and paddling. At about 10:30 p.m., we were to be informed of the exact nature of the race course, along which we would be expected to locate nine hidden checkpoints and punch a card proving we had passed through.
Of the three of us, only Yvonne had had experience with the race. A strong athlete with solid endurance, she had participated in 2011 in a cold, daylong August rain and had vowed never to do it again. Mike, in great shape from his continual triathlon training and his work as a P90X instructor, had, like me, no experience with a competition of this duration. And I, as the oldest member of the group, was by far the biggest racing newbie — having entered only two races since graduating from high school: the 1980 Mount Marathon race and the 2012 five-kilometer Run for the River.
Yes, there are 32 years between those experiences.
On this particular weekend, with Father’s Day looming only two days away, the campers, motor homes and heavy-duty trucks had
Photo courtesy of Yvonne Leutwyler. A gravel pit in Jonesville, near Sutton, provided a beautiful backdrop for the race start. The Alaska Adventure Racing group set up their tent in the middle of a gathering of RVs of people enjoying a weekend of off-roading and target shooting practice in this backcountry area.
infiltrated the site en masse, with trailers packed with motorcycles, ATVs and four-wheelers, providing us with myriad illustrations of the Doppler effect, and creating a makeshift RV village.
It was literally in the middle of all this motorized mayhem that a group of 22 helmeted, sleep-deprived, adventure-racing participants were about to clamber onto their mountain bikes and launch into a fully human-powered competition.
Before any of us contemplated another good night’s sleep, however, we would be pedaling about 25 miles (over muddy mining roads, along stretches of highway, down a deteriorating old railroad bed paralleling the Matanuska River and through the streets of Palmer), trekking approximately 10 miles (down empty city streets, up a pair of wooded buttes, along mosquito-infested trails and swamps, and even down a hard-packed gravel road), and paddling six miles of slack water in one-person, flat-bottomed pack rafts.
Prior to race start, I laid out my goals: (1) Avoid injury to myself or my teammates. (2) Finish the race. (3) Have fun. I assumed that success in the first two categories would ensure success in the third. I also assumed that the high character and athletic prowess of my teammates improved the likelihood of accomplishing all three goals.