Mountain Mumbles

Abby Rideout, of Salt Lake City, competes in the 2015 Teton Ogre adventure race. The race features several small ogre action figures hidden on the course.

I have an unwritten list of words that I really try not to use too frivolously. Some of them are simple black and white. “Suffer” is one of those.

It’s not suffering if you’re doing it to yourself on purpose. Everyone who gets rained on during a long hike can stop whining about how they suffered so hard over the weekend. Save that one for people undergoing real hardship.

“Adventure” falls into a grayer area. It’s a word that is overused a lot. Trying out a new ice cream place, or playing frisbee golf, can be an adventure, apparently. Personally I have an urge to save that word for bigger endeavors. Vikings who headed to pillage some villages, got lost and ended up somewhere in the northeastern U.S. had adventures. Anything involving a dragon is probably an adventure. Ditto for any trip on which you meet a wizard, discover a continent (or new planet) or have to rescue a prince (or princess).

But going out for a 10-hour ramble in the northern Tetons, looking for preset checkpoints? That’s not quite the same scale, is it?

That’s really the only quibble I have with the Teton Ogre, the “adventure race” moniker. That isn’t the organizers’ fault, but based on my previous criteria there’s a serious lack of dragons, wizards, new continents and princesses. There is, however, a whole lot of uncertainty, the potential for bears, an errant cow or two and several small ogre action figures hidden in the woods.

This year’s Teton Ogre opened beautifully, with clear-ish skys, a temperate breeze and a nice straightforward gravel ride to kick things off. The threatened forecast of thundershowers gave the clouds that lurked on the horizon a menacing weight, though, and we hustled through the first few checkpoints, mindful of how much slower we’d be moving if the rain moved in hard.

Adventure racing is unlike any other competition I’ve been part of, because for the vast majority of the time you have no idea how you’re doing compared with your competitors. Sure, we passed many teams throughout the day, and we ran across the tracks of even more, but teams can collect the checkpoints in any order. That means it’s impossible to assess how you’re doing compared to the field. It doesn’t matter if you pass someone; they could just be collecting checkpoints in a different order than you are. That, combined with the lack of a clearly defined race route pushes things a little further away from typical “race” territory and a little closer to “adventure” status.

But if you want to feel like you might accidentally really have an adventure, try getting lost. Not “I’m not sure we’re on the right trail” lost, but “I’m not sure we’re on the right map” lost. The sort of lost where you forget you’re in a race, and start just trying to remember which direction the beer is. Midway through the 10-hour race we might have been wearing race bibs, but we were just focused on not needing a helicopter to get home.

Eventually we bumbled onto the right overgrown road, collected a few more checkpoints, bushwhacked through the swamp and made it back to our bikes and the relative safety of roads and trails that came with signs to name them. The rest of our day was shadowed by the backdrop of our misadventure, though. We still didn’t know how we were doing compared to the field, but we knew that there was no way everyone else had been as lost as we were. We pushed on though, collected a checkpoint on the Bitch Creek Bridge, and then turned into the wind to head back to Tetonia.

The clouds still loomed full of potential delay above us as we fought a headwind down the rail trail. Somewhere near Felt, Idaho, I found myself wishing this was a little more of a real adventure. Those sorts of stories never talk about the long fruitless bike rides where it feels like your running shorts are trying to strangle your nether regions into something resembling a Ken doll. Their long journeys are punctuated by trolls and elves and enchanted forests. All we got was a grove of cottonwood trees that clogged my throat with detritus.

When we pushed across Highway 33 for the last kick into Tetonia I wished desperately for a dragon to jump out and stop us. Even a small black bear or yappy dog would have sufficed. Anything to give us an excuse to stop pedaling and maybe throw rocks and yell or something. The dragon slumbered on in its culvert, so we struggled on, beating fourth place to the finish line by a minute.

There was no long-haired princess to kidnap at the end of the story, no continents discovered, no treasure trove, no feast as all the warriors toasted our feats of bravery. For a moment things felt remarkably “un-adventury.” But then there was cold beer, a warm fire and an incredible teammate, and I won a boot dryer, which is a lot more useful to my wet running shoes than any heap of gold.

Cy Whitling writes every other week on living and playing in the mountains. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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