Bob Miller of Team Canada Adventure Talks About Redemption and Wild Cards at Eco-Challenge Fiji
Team Canada Adventure had one of the more intriguing biographies on the team list at Eco-Challenge last September. Team Captain Bob Miller is a well known name in expedition racing but had been out of competition for almost 7 years and was returning to a race and a location which had some difficult memories for him. I asked him if he was returning looking for redemption.
“When Fiji was announced I was excited to go back,” he said. “And yes I was looking for some redemption for what happened last time I was there at Eco-Challenge in 2002. Our team had severe foot infections around Vuwa Falls and we had to retire, and at the time I was crushed. I think it was only my 3rd expedition race and I didn’t have the perspective I do now. I didn’t know at the time you expect to have races where things don’t go well, and that you can’t always finish. I can still remember how much it hurt though, and welcomed the chance to go back.
“I was happy to be there again and was shaking my head all the time as it was such a crazy production, with SO much money. It was mind-blowing, on the next level from anything else. We heard rumours of the budget, but it was definitely more than the rest of adventure racing combined, many times over. That meant they could do things and have disciplines other races couldn’t, like building custom sailing boats for so many teams.”
There were many other racers there who were returning as well, all for similar reasons of nostalgia, giving it a last shot, but above all because it was Eco-Challenge. The most iconic of adventure races was back after 17 years. “The race bought so many of us into the sport,” Miller said, “and I guess there was some ego in going back. Adventure racing is such a niche activity and this was a chance for my family and friends to see what I’d been up to all these years! However, I don’t know how much we’ll feature in the films, probably not much as we were not a featured team and are quiet and probably not great on camera.”
Miller’s experienced team mate Scott Ford was also on a team which withdrew in 2002 (most did) and he’d been the first person Miller called to get a team together, but what made Canada Adventure intriguing was their other two team members. Ryan Atkins and Rea Kolbl are both world class Obstacle Course Racers (OCR), and had little to no adventure racing experience. To have two ‘experienced old pros’ at adventure racing with two OCR athletes was a strange mix.
Chalk and cheese, and oil and water come to mind when discussing adventure racing and OCR, and it has to be said some adventure racers do kind of look down their noses at OCR. One elite racer I spoke to said he’d chatted to Miller about his team before the race and immediately dismissed them as competition with the two OCR athletes on the team. Experience counts for so much in expedition racing that many others will have dismissed them too.
However, Atkins and Kolbl are not the average weekend warriors struggling round a 5k course of mud pits and monkey bars. Both are elite, world class athletes with plenty of outdoor experience and Miller had decided to go to Fiji with them.
“I raced with Scott a lot,” he said, “mainly around 2005-2008 but like me he’d dropped out of the sport. He’d started a family and after that time there wasn’t the sponsorship around so it meant dipping into your own pockets, which is not easy with a young family. I knew we needed experience on the team and he is a tremendous paddler, which helped as there were a lot of water stages. He was returning for similar reasons to me too, now his kids are older.
“I knew Ryan from OCR management as I work on organising some races and he’s a great athlete. I think he’s done one Untamed New England race and he has a mountain biking background at World Cup level and loves adrenaline and outdoor adventures. He was on the fence for quite a while as he had to weigh up the time away from OCR competitions and what Eco-Challenge would do to him, leaving him beat up and needing recovery time. He had to think of sponsors and income, and it took him while to come on board.
“We struggled to find a female racer to join us to be honest. Our first choice didn’t work out and I’d asked some of my old team mates with no luck. Rea had done 24 hour OCR’s but nothing longer than that and had no mountain biking experience at all so she was the biggest wild card in our team. On the plus side she is a great endurance trail runner, and as a full time athlete had all the time in the world to prepare. She knows Ian Adamson too and had been chatting to him, and had watched the old Eco-Challenge shows so she had an idea what was involved.
“Even so nothing can prepare you for the mental side of racing. Being sleep deprived, feeling mentally fried and totally beaten up all the time, but keeping moving is only something you can learn from experience.”
I asked if he was nervous going to Fiji. He laughed and said, “I was 100% nervous! We had no idea how it would work out, but we had some experience on our side.
We had a low point around Vuwa falls again as the forest above there is a place you don’t want to be, it’s almost impenetrable and full of the slipperiest rocks in the world. But unlike in 2002 I knew what to expect and also that we had to avoid infections. I still remember the incredible pain in 2002 so we’d been stopping every 6 hours or so for a full foot clean using antibiotics and antifungal cream and we got through there.”
Asked if he had been nervous for himself before the race he laughed even harder and said, “Rob, I was too busy to even think about being nervous. I don’t have the time to do the training I used to, but it was more focused training and with work and preparing for the race I think it was the most stressful time of my life!”
It’s a cliché that getting to the start is the toughest part of a race, but Bob Miller and his half and half team of experience racers and OCR athletes were there. How did it all work out? They can’t say and we won’t tell you yet, but we will have a follow up article once the shows are out.
For now watch the shows starting Friday on Amazon Video, and maybe they will be featured, maybe not. If you do see them you’ll know they were a wild card in the pack.
[Bob Miller was talking to SleepMonsters Editor Rob Howard.]