Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge

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Ope I did it Again! Taking on the next Challenge in AR

Rachel Popelka / 15.06.2022See All Event Posts Follow Event
Team Ope on the finish line at the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge
Team Ope on the finish line at the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge / © Ann Ilagan Photography / Coates Photography

Five months after my first adventure race, the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge - Winter Edition, I found myself toeing the start line of the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge (RMAC) 18-hour race. Three hours in the woods wasn't enough to quench my wanderlust, so I figured why not go for 18 hours. I found a teammate on Facebook and geared up for the challenge.

There were many differences between the winter edition and the summer edition, outside of the obvious course distance. For the 18-hour, we received our maps about an hour before the start compared to the day before. This led to less time to analyze the best route and write down specific bearings. The waterproof paper also did not allow for marking directly on the map with the highlighter and sharpie I had brought.

After an hour of looking at the maps, we felt we had a pretty good plan of attack to clear the course if time would allow. We loaded up on a bus and enjoyed the hour-long ride to the start in the Underdown Recreation Area. I remember thinking, "If the bus takes an hour to get from the finish to the start, how long will it take us to go that far?”

Silver Linings

There were times out on the course we just needed to grit it out.

At about 11:00 PM, we turned on our headlamps, punched the start checkpoint (CP), and headed off into the woods. For the first few hours of the race, we rode the struggle bus from CP to CP. It was my first time navigating in the dark (second time navigating ever) and not being able to see far into the woods gave us a significant disadvantage. The terrain in Wisconsin is subtle, and not being able to see the features and being a novice at reading the map in general made for a slow night.

However, I was starting to figure it out just in time for my headlamp to die two hours before sunrise. Despite this, we were able to get into a groove and keep grinding through the opening trek. We knew we would not be able to clear the course with the time we had lost, so we cut out some of the trek to make our way toward our bikes.

This decision led us to a secluded little lake shore for sunrise. We paused to relish in the quiet beauty as the sky and the lake turned pink, illuminating the fog over the lake and the symphony of greens in the surrounding foliage. The forest greeted the morning with a cacophony of sounds; birds chirping, turkeys flying down from their roosts, and coyotes howling in the distance. It was as if we had our own cheering section telling us we made it to morning. The mosquitoes then joined the party, threatening to eat us alive if we didn't keep moving.  

Adjustments on the fly

On the bikes, I got into a rhythm as we rolled over the hills.

Once we finally made it to our bikes, we had more decisions to make. My teammate's knees were acting up, so we knew we would have to do more slashing of the course to make it to the finish in time. We opted to skip the first single-track bike section to start moving toward Wausau. My teammate took over navigation due to having a bike map board.

It felt good to be moving with some resemblance of speed again, and without navigational duties, I could zone into the rhythm of the bike as we rolled over countless hills on our way from CP to CP. We had a few navigational errors on the bike, but we quickly recovered, making our way through the river crossing and to the second transitional area.

My butt was very happy to get out of the saddle as the sweet aroma of maple syrup and bacon beckoned us to the river's edge. We were about 10 hours into the race, and this was the first moment I started to feel emotional. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt truly grateful for the race volunteers, sausage, and my Reese's peanut butter cup.

After my moment of gratitude, we decided to attempt the paddle. We loaded into our canoe and tried to paddle upstream on the Wisconsin River to see how long it would take us to get to the first checkpoint. After paddling for a few minutes, we felt like we were moving forward; however, we were still at the launch site when we looked at the shore.

In favor of getting more CPs, we decided to forgo the paddle section and head back to our bikes. After what felt like hours of following my teammate's lead, we made it to Wilke's farm. That is when I realized we had made a navigational error and missed the second single-track bike section. It was too late to go back, and we were both ready to get out of the saddle, so we pushed on to the barn.

As we cruised through the barn, curious cows greeted us with moos and sideways looks. The only thing that would have made this part of the race more Wisconsin is if we had to milk the cows to earn the checkpoint.

Heading out of Wilke's farm, we started to intermix with the 8-hour and 3-hour racers. Seeing people with fresh legs and smiles was refreshing when I felt tired and brain fog.

My favorite part was seeing a little girl on tow from her dad, talking race strategy as they made their way up a big hill. It is hard to complain about being tired when you see so many people having a blast.

Finding a groove

The final part of the course was another trek. It felt great to be on my feet again, and I was in a groove with navigation. We collected as many CPs as possible in the remaining three hours and headed to the finish line, ensuring we had time to spare.

My family was waiting with beer, cheese curds, and big smiles at the finish line. It felt good to know I had completed my first 18-hour event, and I was hungry for more. After finding a chair to rest, my brain was already formulating ways to adjust my training to improve my navigational skills for the next race. 

Growing into AR

I am part of the RMAC adventure racing family and grinning ear-to-ear!

This race offered endless opportunities for me to sharpen my skills as an adventure racer. I had to learn how to use my emotional energy to positively affect my teammate and use his energy to fuel myself. I found ways to be more efficient during transitions and reading the map. I grew my navigational toolbox and became more confident even when I felt lost.

The most important lesson was staying motivated even when the goals of the race switched from clearing the course to just staying out there for 18 hours and getting what we could. It was hard to know when to give up on a CP and not let that disappointment permeate the rest of the race. A

dventure racing is so much more than just being able to run, bike and paddle. It is an artform of managing your emotions and expectations, staying level-headed when you feel lost, and bringing together your teammate's strengths to produce a great experience while kicking butt out in the wilderness.

RMAC Family

RMAC was a great venue to put together the skills I had been practicing for the past few months. The race directors did a fantastic job of keeping everything organized and running smoothly. As a Wausau native, I was proud of how the race showcased the hidden beauty of Wisconsin. After participating in two RMAC events, I feel a part of the family.

Anyone who participates in an RMAC event can expect a big Midwest welcome and get out of the race exactly what they want to put into it. RMAC offers tough challenges for the competitive type while simultaneously offering a fun environment for people that want to slow down and enjoy the ride. So pack your bug spray and some cheese for the road and join me next year in the biggest adventure race in the US.

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