Veteran WEDALI Adventure Racing Squad Takes US National Championship

Clifford White / 14.09.2021
Team Wedali on the way to taking the title
Team Wedali on the way to taking the title / © Legendary Randy Ericksen Films

Three names frequently mentioned among the top U.S. racers of the past decade teamed up to win the 2021 U.S. Adventure Racing Association (USARA) National Championship, a 30-hour race that took place on September 10 and 11 in perfect conditions in the famed trail town of Cable, Wisconsin.

Justin Bakken, Mari Chandler, and Brian Mayer – who each previously won national championships separately from each other – formed this year’s WEDALI squad. It was Bakken’s third championship (he previously won with WEDALI in 2010 and 2012), Chandler’s third as well (a previous winner with DART/Nuun in 2008 and Adventure Medical Kits in 2016), and Mayer’s second (he won with Team SOG in 2011).

WEDALI’s experience gave them the edge over the reigning national champion team, Quest Adventure Racing, comprised of Emily Caseria, Dusty Caseria, and Jason Popilsky (himself a previous national champion with Adventure Medical Kits in 2014). After racing neck-and-neck for much of the race, including a stressful period in the middle of the night when both teams came into the second-to-last transition area at the same time, WEDALI pulled ahead in the early-morning hours and cleared the 127-mile course in 24:45, finishing 37 minutes ahead of Quest.

WEDALI and Quest were among 55 teams – with participants from 39 U.S. States – that lined up at the start of the 22nd annual event, hosted at the Lakewoods Resort in Cable, Wisconsin. The town, with a population of less than 800, is known for hosting the American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest cross-country ski race, and a mountain biking trail system that includes more than 300 miles of off-road bike routes.

The race began with five stages that could be completed in any order, including a technical mountain biking leg, two paddling stages on Nemakagon Lake, a technical orienteering section, and a trekking leg that passed through an area with a rich iron deposit, rendering compasses nearly useless. The leading teams finished this clover-leaf section as the sun set, then headed into a long, demanding mountain biking section that brought them to a large orienteering course, which was mostly runnable, giving the uber-fit Quest team from Bellingham, Washington, a chance to take time back from WEDALI.

They clawed back 30 minutes and departed nearly simultaneously for the mountain bike to the final trekking leg, where WEDALI pulled ahead once again. Chandler said WEDALI spent the final half-hour of the race biking furiously to the finish line, looking over their shoulders worrying they might see Quest’s bright green jerseys rounding a corner behind them.

Completing the podium was local favorite Rib Mountain Racing, from nearby Wausau, Wisconsin. Tim Buchholz, Anna Nummelin, and Eric Martinez also finished third at the 2019 USARA National Championship.Last year’s race was canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic, making this the first in-person USARA National Championship since USARA Executive Director Michael Garrison took over leadership of the association in 2020. Garrison said he was “absolutely pleased with the event” this year.

“We knew going in we had some incredibly competitive teams, so much so that we lengthened the course,” he said. “The top teams put on heck of a show. It was incredible to have them four hours from the finish and at the same transition area at the same time. It was pretty exciting at race HQ and watching the live-tracking, waiting to see how it all played out.”

National champions were also crowned in the female, male, and masters divisions, with the Wilderness Wenches taking top prize in the women’s division, which has experienced a surge in popularity due in large part to the Women of AR project. The men’s division was won by Michigan Racing Addicts – the team’s third consecutive championship – and the masters division was won by No Complaints.

Garrison praised Race Director Paula Waite, the president of Hayward, Wisconsin-based 180 Adventure, for putting on an event worthy of the national stage.

“Her organization and planning, her dedicated group of volunteers, her managing of the course and the race as it played out, was all absolutely phenomenal. We have received so much positive feedback and we’re pleased so many people had such a good time,” Garrison said.

The U.S. Adventure Racing Association moves into its first off season with big plans for 2022, including the launch of its regional championship series and the selection of an exciting new destination for its 2022 national championship race. Garrison said his organization won’t be taking much of a break as it digs back into the work of improving the organization with the goal of growing and supporting the sport of adventure racing in the U.S.

“We think the race was a success. It’s gratifying it went as well as it did, but it also helped to clarify how much more work needs to be done,” Garrison said. “Seeing everybody in one place again at the race provided the energy and enthusiasm we need to tackle all the work we have ahead of us.”

You can see the full results of the race here and read all about the USARA here.

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