Endless Mountains Adventure Race (The Grand)

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Reflections on People and Experiences from a Race Director

Press Release / 29.06.2023See All Event Posts Follow Event
Race Checkpoint at the Endless Mountains Adventure Race
Race Checkpoint at the Endless Mountains Adventure Race / © Vlad Bukalo

As I write this, it is 07h00 on Thursday, 29 June 2023 and we are 69 hours into the 2023 Endless Mountains Adventure Race. It is the morning of Day 4 for the race staff and volunteers.

I sit under a pavilion at Ole Bull State Park. On one side of me is Vlad Bukalo, editing photos from yesterday and planning out his route to catch teams today. On the other is my newly minted four-year-old, in the same footsie pajamas that he wore throughout last year’s Endless Mountains that now have an additional hole in the toe. He is eating an hours-old chicken burrito the size of his head from the Real Taste food truck – which has been serving up food for racers and staff since yesterday afternoon – and watching the Lion King, coming off the high of a full night of sleep, snuggled in his car seat, in the backseat Mike Garrison’s mini-van. Mike is my friend and teammate. He is also the executive director of the US Adventure Racing Association (USARA) and, this week, he is serving as the ARWS referee for our race.

Vlad Bukalo

At the table in front of me sits Mark Harris, who has kept the dots moving since Monday at 10h08, fastidiously tracking each team; Brian Gatens, equal parts outreach coordinator, podcast host, pep talker, TA manager, and childcare provider; Jim Mernin, who drove up early this morning to greet his wife, who is undertaking her first expedition race… and to make individual pizzas, prepped over the last several weeks in his kitchen in New Jersey and ready to be baked in his Solo oven for teams as they reach the finish line; and Keith Gibialante, who found his way to Rootstock events a couple years ago and has since made himself an essential member of our crew.

When he is not racing, he drives trucks, packs U-Hauls, and when a participant got stuck in Toronto the Saturday before the race began, with four bike boxes and four gear bins and no way of getting to the PA Wilds, he dropped off her teammates who he’d just driven from the airport in Philadelphia and headed north with his passport. He made it to the shore of Lake Ontario for sunrise, and they got back to Williamsport in time for the pre-race briefing.

Randy Ericksen

I’m so utterly grateful that these are our people.

And those teams in the woods, those are our people, too. Adventure buddies, teammates, longtime friends, and the folks we just met for the first time at check-in last Saturday. An expedition race is an exercise in relationship building. Over five days, the outside world ceases to exist and we become a fully-formed community: racers and volunteers, photographers and medics, partners and parents and pets and friends. Our experiences, our stories, our trials and triumphs become the Endless Mountains Adventure Race – the pieces that live on after the final team has crossed the finish line, the final bike box is emptied and stored away.

Vlad Bukalo

Over the last 69 hours (now 75 hours and sitting at the Flaming Foliage boat launch in Renovo, because writing becomes interspersed with logistics to sort out, racers to chat with, donut pickups to coordinate, and transitions to open), we have watched teams unravel complicated navigational challenges, pulling together all of the tools in their wheelhouses to keep themselves found in the dense woods. We have seen racers who met for the first time at pre-race check-in become cohesive teams, and we have seen long-time teams struggle to find consensus over strategy, planning, and common goals.

We have seen exhaustion, illness, and injuries take down teams, and we have seen resilience, determination, and new relationships emerge in their wake. We have seen the curiosity and kindness of strangers, who have never before encountered the thousand-mile stare that only comes from the precise combination of persistent sleep deprivation and deep exertion, and we have seen local communities greet us with good cheer, tasty treats, and even locally-milled paper towels.

Finally, we have seen the emergence of new lifelong friendships, forged through the grit of getting to the next checkpoint, and we have seen lifelong friends make the impossible decision to leave the course, because they couldn’t bear to see each other in pain.

As Race Directors, Brent and I get to curate a collective adventure for teams to take on. But on that collective adventure, each team – each racer, even – experiences their own unique journey.

Randy Ericksen

Half an hour ago, Bend Racing, leading the field by more than twelve hours, passed through the town of Renovo, the finish line almost in sight. Hours to the north, in the Hammersley Wilds, BlueBolt/Rockhop, a novice team with local ties, has just entered the crux stage of the race. They face many hours and many miles of trekking through some of the most remote wilderness in the state, and no doubt the uncertainty of whether they will reach the finish line by Saturday morning.

From Bend to BlueBolt, and every team in between, these teams chart their own course, their own reason to keep going, encounter their own hills and valleys. Together, those experiences become the story of the 2023 Endless Mountains Adventure Race.

Written by Abby Perkiss, Race Director of the Endless Mountains Adventure Race by Rootstock Racing.

Photo by Vlad Bukalo and Randy Ericksen

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