2022 Expedition Oregon Commentary
Hi, race fans! This is Andrea Anderson from Team Thisability Adventure Racing. I’m here to provide my perspective for anyone trying to understand a bit more about what racing a big race is like. And, Expedition Oregon is certainly a BIG race. Bend Racing has named it America’s Toughest Race and there’s been no argument there. In fact, this 4th edition looks to be shaping up as the toughest yet! The ATR website reads a bit like Shackleton’s advertisement for his “hazardous journey” to the Antarctic. The race director, Jason Magness, goes so far as to say, “We don’t give a damn if you finish or not.” Can that be true? I don’t think so, but as arm chair dot-watchers, I think we’ll get an idea of what he means by that.
Bend Racing has the most thorough check-in process of any of the 9 multi-day races I have done (which includes EO’s first ARWS demonstration race in 2018). Yesterday, teams had to rappel from a short cliff face and had to demonstrate a wet reentry by (willingly) flipping their packrafts and getting back in within 1 minute (among other things). You can imagine that doing this with snow falling made it even more nerve racking. By the way, am I the only one shocked to see a team doing this in their underwear? Rest assured, dry suits or wet suits are mandatory, so I imagine they stripped down because they didn’t think their gear would have time to dry out by the time the race starts. Speaking of mandatory gear, for the first time, EO is requiring an ice axe and microspikes or crampons. That’s pretty hardcore!
For me, it begs the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Were these teams drawn to this race and AR in general because they already had an adventurous lifestyle and all the skills needed, or did this race encourage them to learn and train up on new skills?
In my case, it’s a little of both. When Chip Dodd and I started racing, we had been searching out ways to enjoy the outdoors that pushed our limits. We had spent a couple of years learning to climb and spent a lot of time mountain biking, too. But, AR has also been a driver for us to learn new skills. When we did EO (on separate teams), we were pretty green at packrafting in whitewater (more on that in a later post).
Unlike other elite sports, many AR athletes are “jacks of all trades and masters of none”. If you’re lucky, you have teammates that are masters of some very important skills to be your foundation of knowledge and experience, but it’s not always the case. For this race and probably most ARWS races, I would think that the closer to the podium you get, the more “masters” there are on the team. And… the only way to be a master is through real life experience... which might also explain to some why older athletes seem to thrive in AR.
At the skills demonstration, you can bet they saw a range of abilities and emotions. I’m sure there were teams that managed it in text-book-style and some that might have needed to “muscle-through” their inexperience. Being nervous is a given and some probably hid that better than others. You can bet that teams were sizing each other up and trying to put aside any feelings of trepidation.
So, while Jason might say they don’t give a damn who finishes, their attention to safety might indicate otherwise. That being said, once on the course, Bend Racing has never had any qualms about letting each team assess their own risk and their own ability to overcome the challenges presented to them. And, in this race, those challenges are going to be as real as they get!